The 5 Most Serious Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

The thought of a serious spinal cord injury is enough to scare most people, and with good reason. A broken back or spinal cord injury may lead to paralysis, early death, or a difficult life impacted by disability. However, not all spinal cord injuries are created equal. Some may not result in paralysis, and many can be fixed with surgery and physical therapy.

Spinal cord injuries are defined by the area of the spine in which they occur. Some injuries are also labeled as “complete,” while others are “incomplete.” A complete injury is a total loss of sensation and signals sent to various parts of the body. An incomplete injury is a partial loss where some sensation and signals may remain. The doctor’s initial diagnosis  might change during time spent in a hospital or rehabilitation facility.

The five serious classifications of spinal injuries include:

1. Spinal contusions

This type of injury to the spine is the most common and is a severe bruising of the spinal cord. Complications may include inflammation and bleeding. This type of injury may result in just a few days of paralysis, as well as lengthy or permanent loss of sensation.

2. Nerve cell injury

Signals are sent to the body through nerve cells, but a spinal injury might make it impossible for those nerve roots to conduct information. There are many nerve cells in the body, and each sends signals to a specific part of the body.

3. Brown-Sequard syndrome

This type of injury happens when one side of the spinal cord is damaged. The side where the injury occurs might be paralyzed. The other side of the body may experience pain due to the interruption of signals sent to the paralyzed side.

4. Central cord syndrome

An injury to the middle of the spinal cord, or the “cervical” area prevents the brain from sending signals to various parts of the body. It’s possible to recover from this type of injury a few weeks after it occurs. While injured, a person might not be able to control his or her arms, and may experience loss of sensation in the legs.

5. Anterior cord syndrome

This type of injury occurs when the pathways that allow the brain to “talk” to different parts of the body is interrupted. This injury may cause a person to lose sensation in various parts of the body, or be unable to control the body because of a loss of motor function. This injury might cause loss of sensation in one area while sensation may remain in another because some spinal pathways remain intact.