Will You be Permanently Paralyzed Because of Your Spinal Cord Injury?
If you or someone you love has suffered a spinal cord injury, you want to know if any paralysis will be permanent. It’s a frightening prospect, and only a very small percentage of individuals with spinal cord injuries regain completely normal movement. Arming yourself with information can help you understand what is happening and begin planning for maximum recovery.
Levels of Injury
After your health care team determines the level of your injuries, you and your doctors need to determine your chances of regaining movement. The severity of your injury depends on how high up on your spinal cord it occurred.
The most serious spinal cord injuries involve the cervical vertebrae in your neck – C1 through C4. Injuries at these levels are likely to result in quadriplegia or tetraplegia (paralysis that affects all four limbs) and may require assistance with breathing and need medical devices to speak. A person with quadriplegia may be able to use a powered wheelchair for movement with special controls. Injuries at the next level, C5-C8, are still very serious, but the patient may retain limited arm, wrist, and hand movement, as well as the ability to breathe and speak on his or her own. A person with an injury at the sixth cervical vertebra may be able to drive a specially adapted vehicle.
Injuries to the mid-back, thoracic vertebrae T1-T12, are less serious than injuries to the cervical vertebrae, but will likely still result in loss of motion in the lower body and require a wheelchair. Injuries to these vertebrae usually affect the legs, lower trunk, and abdomen, depending on the specific location of the injury. A person with injuries to one of these vertebrae may be able to use a manual wheelchair or walk while wearing braces; others may be able to stand by using a standing frame.
Lower spinal cord injuries affect the lumbar (L1-L5) and sacral (S1-S5) nerves. Lumbar injuries can lead to some – but not always total – loss of motion in the hips and legs, as well as the inability to control the bowels and bladder (though individuals with these injuries can often manage with some medical assistance). Sacral injuries are the most likely level of injury for an individual to regain the ability to walk without assistance.