Spinal injuries can be caused by medical mistakes, or through trauma like car accidents or sports injuries.
An injury to your spine can change your life forever, but if it was caused by another’s negligence, a serious injury or medical negligence solicitor could help
A spinal injury claim can help you access treatments and rehabilitation which would not be available to others
Speak to a spinal injury specialist today to find out what kind of help they can provide
Spinal cord injuries are extraordinarily complex, which is part of the reason they are so difficult to come to terms with. There are many different types of spinal cord injury – each with different short-term and long-term outlooks.
The spinal cord is like a highway of nerves. Its job is to relay messages from the brain to the body and back again. Damage to this information highway means the messages sent from the brain are not received by the body (and vice versa), resulting in the loss of feeling, function and movement in certain parts of the anatomy.
Spinal cord injuries are classified in two ways:
How badly the spinal cord has been damaged (complete or incomplete);
the specific location of the injury on the spinal cord.
On this page we tell you about:
1. Complete and Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries are separated into two categories: complete and incomplete. Complete spinal cord injuries result in a total loss of feeling and motor function (movement) in the body below the point of injury.
With incomplete spinal cord injuries, the spinal cord is only partially damaged. Some nervous signals will still be able to travel past the injured area, meaning partial feeling and/or motor skills will be preserved below the point of injury.
Incomplete spinal cord injuries can be divided into four sub-types. These categories relate to the part of the spinal cord that is damaged: front, back, middle or side. (Remember, incomplete spinal cord injuries are not as severe as complete spinal cord injuries.)
2. Central cord syndrome
As the name suggests, central cord syndrome relates to damage to the centre (or middle) of the spinal cord. It is characterised by loss of function in the arms, with retention of feeling and motor function in the legs. Central cord syndrome is almost always associated with neck injuries.
3. Anterior cord syndrome (Beck’s syndrome)
Anterior cord syndrome relates to damage to the front of the spinal cord. It is characterised by the loss of movement below the level of injury as well as loss of sensitivity to pain and temperature. Touch sensitivity remains intact.
4. Posterior cord syndrome
Posterior cord syndrome relates to damage to the back of the spinal cord. It has the opposite impacts of anterior cord syndrome (above) and is characterised by loss of feeling below the level of injury but retention of movement as well as normal alertness to pain and temperature.
5. Brown-Séquard syndrome
Brown-Séquard syndrome relates to damage inflicted on one side of the spinal cord. On the injured side, the body loses motor function but retains sensation. On the opposite side to the injury, sensation is lost but motor function is preserved.
6. Location of Spinal Cord Injuries
The location of the spinal cord injury determines how much of the body is impacted. The higher (closer to the head) the injury, the greater the extent of damage. Generally speaking spinal cord injuries result in a total or partial loss of feeling and motor function below the point of injury. Therefore neck injuries are almost always the most severe.
The spinal cord is divided into four sections:
These sections are protected by 33 vertebrae. Each one is named according to the part of the spinal cord that it protects. For example, the cervical spinal cord has eight vertebrae. The highest (closest to the head) is C1 and the lowest is C8.
This gives medical professionals a way to classify exactly where a spinal cord injury is located. For example, a C5 spinal cord injury will be located at the fifth vertebrae in the cervical section, while a T8 spinal cord injury will be located at the eighth vertebrae in the thoracic section.
7. Cervical (C1 - C8) Spinal Cord Injuries
Damage to the high cervical part of the spinal cord (C1 – C4) is the most severe type of spinal cord injury. The nerves that control breathing emerge at C4, so the patient may need a ventilator. Ability to speak may be impaired together with paralysis of all four limbs (referred to as tetraplegia or quadriplegia). Patients will likely be unable to control bowel and bladder movements. The outlook is better for the low cervical section (C5 – C8). Speech and breathing will function almost normally and a degree of arm movement will be retained.
C5 spinal cord injury – patient will be able to raise arms and bend elbows, but will likely have total or partial paralysis of wrists, hands, trunk and legs
C6 spinal cord injury – some wrist function will be preserved
C7 spinal cord injury – normal movement of the shoulder and some movement of arms and hands will be preserved
C8 spinal cord injury – may be able to grasp and release objects with hands
8. Thoracic (T1 - T12) Spinal Cord Injuries
Injuries to the thoracic section of the spinal cord are less common, due to the additional protection offered by the rib cage. Thoracic spinal cord injuries are characterised by paralysis of the legs with retention of regular arm function (paraplegia). For this reason, patients with this type of spinal cord injury will most likely use a manual wheelchair. The lower the thoracic injury, the more upper body movement will be retained. Loss of bowel and bladder function is common.
9. Lumbar (L1 - L5) Spinal Cord Injuries
Lumbar injuries generally affect movement and sensation below the hips as well as bowel and bladder function. Full body function will be preserved above the hips, including breathing, speech and arm movement. Injuries to the upper part of the lumbar (L1 – L2) may be referred to as conus medullaris.
10. Sacral (S1 - S5) Spinal Cord Injuries
Sacral-level injuries, down in the lower back, are characterised by loss of bowel and bladder function and partial paralysis of the legs – although patients may be able to walk unaided. The spinal cord doesn’t actually reach as low as this part of the back. By this point it has fragmented in to a bundle of nerve roots called the cauda equina. Damage to these roots is called cauda equina syndrome and is less severe than an injury to the actual spinal cord. That is because these roots are part of the peripheral nervous system, which has a greater capacity for healing than the central nervous system (spinal cord and brain).
What is the prognosis?
Spinal cord injuries are highly individual. Each one is unique and outcomes can vary from full recovery to permanent total paralysis. Again, that is part of what makes spinal cord injuries so emotionally challenging and difficult to come to terms with. Any return of movement generally happens within the first year of injury, though improvements can continue for several years. The return of feeling and sensitivity is less common.
You are never alone. We can help you.
Spinal cord injuries are life-changing events and can turn your world upside down – whether you are the patient or a loved one. Patients may require long-term physical support, which can put a huge strain on family units. The important thing to remember is that when you’re bringing a legal claim, you are never alone.
Many spinal cord injuries are tragic twists of fate. Sadly, others could have been avoided. If your injuries are a result of somebody else’s negligence, you could be entitled to compensation, which can lay the foundations for a brighter future, provide some respite and pay for professional care to take some of the weight off friends and family.
A team of physical therapists, occupational therapists, recreational therapists, nurses, social workers and psychologists will craft a personalised rehabilitation plan that will help you and your family begin the process of readjusting to a new way of life.
Obtaining compensation is complicated and requires the input of a legal specialist. You have to determine the effects an injury will have both now and in the future. Call us today on 08000 448 488, and find out how we can help you.
I am a clinical negligence lawyer specialising in high value clinical negligence claims. I have developed an expertise in actions involving general practitioner and hospital negligence and have a special...
I am a medical negligence solicitor at Enable Law, specialising in serious and complex injury cases. I have extensive knowledge and experience in bringing claims against NHS Trusts, GP’s and private...