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Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury

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Spinal cord injury (SCI) symptoms vary depending on the cause and location of the SCI. Spinal cord injury is much more than damage to the spinal cord. SCI can affect the body's movement, sensation, and organ function.

It's important to remember that SCI symptoms vary from case to case. A relatively mild spine cord injury may cause a few symptoms that resolve over time. Even severe cases of SCI don't all have the same symptoms, and over time, those symptoms may lessen.

You can read the list below for possible symptoms associated with SCI:

  • Inability to breathe without assistance
  • Loss of bowel /bladder control
  • Inability to regulate body temperature, blood pressure
  • Blood clots
  • Infections
  • Pain
  • Spastic contractions (exaggerated movements)
  • Loss of muscle control and muscle mass (muscle atrophy)
  • Loss of sensation (cannot feel temperature, pressure, pain)
  • Inability to sense body position
  • Calcium deposits in the muscles and tendons
  • Infertility (males)
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Pressure ulcers (i.e., bed sores)

Paralysis is a common symptom related to SCI. The types of paralysis associated with a spinal cord injury are:

  • Tetraplegia (Quadriplegia) occurs when the cervical (neck) area of the spinal cord is injured. Christopher Reeve had this type of paralysis. Quadriplegics, also known as tetraplegics, cannot move their arms or legs.
  • Paraplegia occurs when the spinal cord is damaged below the cervical spine. It may be injured in the thoracic spine (mid-back), or lumbar (low back). Although the spinal cord ends at L2, cord injury is possible at the end tip (conus) of the spinal cord and can involve the cauda equina. The cauda equina is a bunch of spinal nerves resembling a horse's tail.
Updated on: 10/05/12
Edward C. Benzel, MD
This article was reviewed by Edward C. Benzel, MD.
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Causes of a Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries (SCI) can be caused by trauma: car accidents and diving accidents, for example. It can also be caused by various conditions, including arachnoiditis and spondylosis. Article covers common and uncommon SCI causes.
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