The Complete Guide to the Different Types of Spine Injury


When a spine is severed, you create conflict with one of the most important parts of your body. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, and there is no guarantee of a full recovery. An injury to your spine will cause problems with finances. Since there is no way to predict an injury of this magnitude, take the time to get educated on the subject. This ensures that you will be better prepared for the harder parts of the injury.

Spine Injury

Knowing the Difference Between Complete And Incomplete

Incomplete spinal cord injuries will have different treatment options than a complete injury. When you think of paralysis due to spine trauma, it doesn’t always qualify as complete. Both incomplete and complete spine injuries have a chance to produce paralysis effects. The difference between the two is that incomplete injuries are usually recoverable. There is also good news of knowing that it is more common to suffer an incomplete spine injury than a complete one. Doctors use the ASIA Impairment Scale to judge just the seriousness of the injury. This is the standard and does a good job of assessing what treatment options work best for recovery.

Complete Paraplegia

Damage that happens to the spinal cord below the neck can be classified as complete paraplegia. In order for it to be classified as such, it has to be a complete spine injury that primarily affects the middle area of the cord. Known as the thoracic region, this is a very vulnerable place to get injured. Side effects include complete loss of feeling and movement in the legs. Areas above the waist are fine when dealing with complete paraplegia, but it is still a scary thing to go through. Since this is a complete injury to the spine, it is very much a life-changing situation.

Complete Tetraplegia

Many consider complete tetraplegia to cause the worst level of paralysis. Instead of just affecting the lower region of the body, complete tetraplegia paralyzes everything from the neck down. You won’t feel any sensation or movement below the neck, and it is often the after-effects of a severe injury to the neck and spine. The good news is that some types of complete tetraplegia allow for minor movement in specific parts of the body. It isn’t rare to see someone with a condition that is still able to move one or more parts of their body. The extent of this movement and sensation will depend heavily on the injury and current treatment options.

Learning The Different Syndromes

There are a lot of classifications of spinal cord injuries, especially when describing incomplete types. Every case is different, and everyone responds to treatment in a different way. You may resolve a problem one day while creating a brand-new problem in the process. To keep it simple, when talking about incomplete spine injuries, there are five categories; Central cord syndrome, posterior cord syndrome, brown-Sequard syndrome, cauda equina syndrome and anterior cord syndrome. All of these point to an injury at a specific point in the spinal cord.

How Spinal Injuries Affect The Mind

Even if you’re aware of the life-changing effects of a spine injury, there are still a few things that are rarely discussed. An incomplete or complete spine injury can tear you down emotionally. It also takes a toll on everyone in your life, especially the people that love you the most. Relationships have been damaged due to a complete change in focus during treatment. Depression, anxiety, sadness, anger, regret, and paranoia are only a few of the things experienced before and after treatment. None of the above-mentioned emotions even cover the stress caused by the financial burden of treatment. This by itself can cause problems that are almost impossible to recover from.


The brain and the spinal cord are connected. When you need to move a certain way, the brain and spinal cord send messages back and forth. It is a great relationship that allows quick and precise movements. Imagine how well that network functions when there is damage to the spine. The message may get in one way, but it has no way of relying on the other end. Your brain is essentially sending messages directly to the spam folder of your spines inbox. Quick or jerky movements after a spine injury is not always a sign of non-damage. These reflexes are often the end result of messages not getting through from the brain to the spine. Doctors can determine if the reflexes are voluntary or not, but need time to check for nerve damage. It is a slow-moving process, yet one that can provide some great news to victims.

Spinal Shock

Spinal shock is just as big a mystery as reflexes. Below the normal level of injury, there is a temporary loss of daily reflexes. This is called spinal shock and is very unpredictable. The timetable for how long it lasts can stretch as long as a month. The condition resolves on its own, but can’t be prevented. After the spinal shock subsides, the real problem sets in. Stiffness or spasticity takes over in the same spot where the injury occurred. Since this happens on its own timetable, it can be unnerving to the individual that is going through the process.


Several of the muscles that you use to breathe correctly are connected to the spine. A severe spine injury will change how you breathe, and in some instances will send your body into panic mode. This happens because your abdominals, diaphragm and intercostal muscles are now weakened. Each serves a specific function that helps with breathing normally. When all of them go down at once, this creates a jam in your system. The biggest part of the breathing problem is how it changes your recovery. Without a strong cough, it becomes increasingly difficult to clear your lungs of harmful secretions. Infection is likely during the recovery period if great care isn’t taken by the individual.

Stomach Ileus

When the intestines and stomach stop working temporarily after a spine injury, this is called an ileus. Even with the stomach stopping normal functions, acid is still being made. This dangerous (but natural) acid is important for breaking down things in your body. Without a functioning stomach, it turns from a helpful part of your system to an actual problem.

Acid reflux cases have shown that stomach acid can destroy the lining, cause ulcers and even prolonging diarrhea. In severe cases of stomach ileus, a nasogastric tube is needed to remove the excess acids until the stomach starts functioning normally. In combination with some medication, this can fight infections and ulcers that may have formed since the initial spinal injury. Stomach ileus is treatable and should never be allowed to turn into a bigger problem.

Neurogenic Shock

Having a low heart rate and low blood pressure after a spine injury can be a side effect called neurogenic shock. This is another issue caused by the brain not being able to communicate with the spine. The brain controls blood and heart functions and depends heavily on the spine to relay that information. After an injury to the spine, a slow heart rate and low blood pressure is a very real possibility. How you lay down after the injury will help prevent this, so be aware of laying, sitting and resting positions.

Altered Temperature Regulation

This is more of an uncomfortable side effect compared to the more life-threatening ones. A spine injury comes with many problems, and one of them is altered temperature regulation. It is a condition that causes you to have goosebumps near or around the point of injury to the spine. In addition to that, you may be unable to sweat for extended periods of time. There will be times where you feel hot when the room temperature is normal, and cold when everyone else is hot. The feeling of uneasiness changes, and in some ways, it is similar to menopause.

It’s Only Scratching The Surface

Other conditions are autonomic hyperreflexia, deep vein thrombosis, neurological problems, joint pain, and bladder and bowel problems. Beyond what is listed, there is plenty more that will keep doctors busy. Your only job as a patient is to allow the doctors time to create the best possible outcome for your spinal injury. Remember, not all spinal injuries are created the same. Always ask questions before committing to a treatment. The side effects of medicine should never come as a surprise. Don’t slack off on your agreed-upon treatment plan, and give yourself and others around you hope. The people close to you will notice a change in temperament and can be a big help with mental wellness. 

Wrap Up

A lot of the above information can be scary to read for the first time. This just reinforces the idea that spinal injuries are no laughing matter. When your life changes from this type of injury, it’s best to understand the situation. Prepare yourself, family and friends, long before it becomes a permanent issue.


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