The Ranges of Spinal Cord Injury

Traumatic spinal cord injury usually begins with a traumatic injury to the spine that may result in fractures or dislocated vertebrae.3,8

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the spinal column consists of 8 cervical vertebrae (neck), 12 thoracic vertebrae (upper and middle back), 5 lumbar vertebrae (lower back), 5 sacral vertebrae (sacrum), and 2 mostly fused coccygeal vertebrae (coccyx). 1,7

“The spinal cord is a central bundle of nerves extending from the brain and branching peripherally, and is responsible for transmitting signals between the brain and the rest of the body.  The spinal cord is located within the spinal column.  Any trauma to the spinal column or the vertebrae has potential to affect the spinal cord and could result in temporary or permanent neurologic impairments”. 1,7

Spinal cord injuries can typically be classified as tetraplegia or paraplegia.  Tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegic) typically results from to an injury between the C1 and T1.  This type of injury is typically associated with a loss of feeling or movement in the upper body such as head, neck shoulder, arms, hands and/or fingers.  Paraplegia may result from an injury between levels T2 and S5.  This type of injury can affect the lower part of the body to include the stomach, hips, legs and feet/toes. 9

The National Spinal Cord Injury (2014) Database states that the most frequent neurological category at discharge from the hospital since 2010 is incomplete tetraplegia (45%) followed by incomplete paraplegia (21%) complete paraplegia (20%) complete tetraplegia (14%).2

An incomplete injury means that the ability of the spinal cord to convey messages to or from the brain is not completely lost.  People with incomplete injuries retain some sensory function and may have voluntary motor activity below the injury site.  A complete injury prevents nerve communications from the brain and spinal cord to parts of the body below the injury site.  There is a total lack of sensory and motor function in the sacral segments S4-5. 3, 9

Common Causes of Spinal Cord Trauma

The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (2014) reports that motor vehicle crashes account for 38% of reported SCI cases.  The next most common cause of SCI is falls (30%), followed by acts of violence (14%)-primarily gunshot wounds.2

The proportion of injuries that are due to sports has decreased over time while the proportion of injuries due to falls has increased.  Violence caused 14% of spinal cord injuries prior to 1980, and peaked between 1990 and 1999 at 24.8% before declining to only 14% since 2010.2

More than 80% of all spinal cord injuries happen to males, who are primarily young adults.2

Please note that this information provided by BARD Medical is not intended to be used in place of a visit, consultation, or advice of a medical professional.  


  1. Centers for Disease Control Spinal Cord Injury Fact Sheet
  2. National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center Spinal Cord Injury Facts and Figures at a Glance: ,
  3. Cleveland Clinic, Diseases and Conditions – Neurogenic Bladder,
  4. Sauerwein D. Urinary tract infections in patients with Neurogenic bladder dysfunction, Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2002 Jun; 19(6):592-7.
  5. ASIA International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury
  6. Clinical Neuroanatomy, 27th Edition, McGraw-Hill Education, 2014, Chapter 5-The Spinal Cord, Chapter 6. The Vertebral Column and Other Structures
  7. Principles and Practice of Hospital Medicine, McGraw-Hill Education, 2012, Chapter 63 – Common Neurosurgical Conditions
  8. Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Orthopedics, 5th Edition, McGraw-Hill Education, 2014
  9. Harrisons™ Principles of Internal Medicine, 18th Edition, McGraw-Hill Education, 2012, Chapter 377, Diseases of Spinal Cord
  10. Smith and Tanagho’s General Urology, 18th Edition. McGraw-Hill Education, 2013
  11. Textbook of Neurogenic Bladder, J.Corus MD and E.Schick MD, Martin Dunite Ltd., United Kingdon, 2004, Chapter 43 –Conservative Treatment

Information is as of 12/2014. Please check references for updated information.