A spinal cord injury is damage to the spinal cord that can interfere with how messages travel back and forth between the brain and the rest of the body. An injury to the spinal cord can result in complete or partial loss of movement (paralysis) and feeling and complete or partial loss of bladder and bowel function.
The degree of lost feeling and/or movement in a spinal cord injury depends on how high on the spinal cord the damage occurs (the level of the injury). Damage to the spinal cord in the neck area (cervical segment) can result in complete or partial paralysis of the arms and legs (tetraplegia, also known as quadriplegia). Damage lower on the spinal cord can result in complete or partial paralysis of the legs and lower body (paraplegia). Breathing is only affected by injuries high on the spinal cord. But bowel and bladder control can be affected no matter where the spinal cord is injured.
The spinal cord can be injured because of an accident, such as a fall or a car crash, or because of a disease, such as an incorrectly formed spine (spina bifida) or a narrowing of the spinal canal.
Treatment immediately after a spinal cord injury can help limit nerve damage. Extensive rehabilitation is needed to learn to live with less mobility and feeling.
Current as of: December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Brian D. O'Brien MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Nancy Greenwald MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation