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What are the Different Types of Spine Injuries?

By Meshell Powell
Updated May 17, 2024
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Spine injuries occur when there is damage to some part of the spinal column, particularly the part of the column that carries information from the brain to the rest of the body. Complete spinal injuries are the most severe forms of spine injuries and are characterized by an inability to move any area of the body that lies below the site of the injury. Incomplete spinal injuries may cause a loss of some function, but there is still some movement possible below the site of the injury. Spine injuries may be caused by traumatic physical injury or as the result of natural disease processes.

Complete spine injuries frequently result in a condition known as complete paraplegia, meaning that the patient is typically paralyzed from the waist down. This type of spine injury results in a complete loss of sensation and movement of the legs. Bowel, bladder, and sexual functions are not able to be controlled by the patient. Some people who have suffered a complete spine injury are able to partially rotate the trunk, but others do not have this ability.

Complete spine injuries may also result in a condition known as complete tetraplegia. With this type of spinal injury, the arms and hands are paralyzed as well as the area of the body below the waist. In some cases, breathing is no longer able to be controlled, requiring the use of a breathing machine known as a ventilator.

Incomplete spine injuries are characterized by the patient's ability to maintain some degree of voluntary movement and sensation below the site of the injury. The extent of movement that is possible depends on the extent of the injury and may vary greatly among people who seem to have the exact same type of injury. It normally takes several weeks after the injury for medical professionals to accurately predict the amount of sensation and function that will be possible.

Some incomplete spine injuries cause impaired sensations to such things as physical touch, temperature changes, and the ability to feel pain below the site of the injury. Other types may result in loss of muscle strength or issues with coordination. Still other types may lead to partial or total loss of sensations or movements on only one side of the body. In some cases, a portion of these lost sensations or the ability to move voluntarily may become restored once the body has some time to heal from the injury.

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