What are the Different Types of Spinal Trauma?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2019
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In the medical world, there are many different classifications for spinal trauma. Because detailed understanding of a traumatic injury or condition is so vital for correct diagnosis and treatment of this crucially important area, trauma may be classified by area, type of injury, and severity as measured by effects. Doctors can then use this information to determine proper treatment and explain potential outcomes to patients suffering from spinal injuries.

Spinal trauma may first be explained by the area of primary injury. The spinal vertebrae are divided into three distinct areas: the cervical or neck, thoracic or center, and lumbar or lower spine. Some may also include the sacral area, located below the lumbar section, as a fourth set. Each vertebra, in turn, is also numbered starting at the highest vertebra and moving downward. An injury in the T1 vertebra, then, describes spinal trauma in the first, or highest, vertebra in the thoracic region. Understanding which vertebrae are primarily affected can help determine what other symptoms or complications are likely to appear.


The type or cause of spinal trauma can give doctors important information about what type of injury they may be handling. Spinal trauma is usually the result of injury or accident, such as falling, car accidents, or other blunt-force impacts. It can also result from penetrating wounds, such as explosions or gun shot wounds. By understanding what type of injury caused the spinal trauma, doctors may have a better concept of what type of injury and damage will be present.

Severity of the spinal trauma is often measured by its resulting effects. The spinal cord essentially holds the trunk of the human body together; when it sustains an injury, associated bodily functions can be seriously impacted, resulting in paralysis, organ problems, and even neurological effects. The American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) grades injuries from A-E depending on severity. An A-grade spinal injury, also called a “complete” injury, indicates failure in all movement and function throughout the entire spine. An E-grade injury is assigned to patients that have injured their spine but have completely normal motor and functioning skills.

Doctors typically test for the severity of spinal trauma by asking the patient to flex various muscles and respond to pinpricks or light touches on the skin. Each vertebra is known to be a factor in the function of a specific area, injuries to the L2 vertebra, for instance, may affect movement and feeling in the upper leg and knee. By systematically testing each area for feeling and function, a doctor can determine which vertebra are functioning normally and which have been damaged by the trauma.

Spinal trauma can have serious and life-long results such as partial or full paralysis and loss of neurological function. However, most people who suffer incomplete spinal damage will be able to recover some function with time and physical therapy treatments. In order to prevent spinal trauma, practical caution should be used in dangerous situation. Wearing a seatbelt while driving and proper equipment for all sports can prevent a large amount of spinal cord injuries.



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