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Spinal Cord Injury

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 6, 2024.

What do I need to know about a spinal cord injury (SCI)?

Your spinal cord is protected by vertebrae that make up the spinal column. An SCI can happen if your spinal column presses down on or pinches your spinal cord. This causes swelling or bruising of your spinal cord. Damage to your spinal column, disease, or infection can cause an injury to your spinal cord. An SCI is referred to by a letter and a number. The letter represents the spinal column level where the injury occurred. The number represents which vertebrae is involved.

What do I need to know about the spinal column levels?

The spinal column usually has about 30 vertebrae. The column is divided into levels:

Spinal Cord Injury

What are the types of SCI?

An SCI may occur at any level. You have an incomplete injury if you have some feeling or movement below the level of injury. You have a complete injury if you have no movement or feeling below the level of injury.

How is an SCI diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will do tests to see if you have any movement or feeling in your arms and legs. You may also need tests such as MRI, CT, or x-ray, to show any damage to your spinal cord. You may be given contrast material to help show the damage to your spinal cord better. Tell your healthcare providers if have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast material.

What is the immediate treatment for an SCI?

You may have to be put in a firm brace or have traction to your spine. The brace and traction are used to prevent movement of your spinal column. Movement of your spinal column may cause more damage to your spinal cord. You may also need medicines to keep you from moving. You may need a ventilator to help you breathe if your injury affects your lungs or diaphragm. You may need surgery to remove the part of your spinal column that is damaging or blocking your spinal cord.

What health problems are common with an SCI?

These complications can become life-threatening:

Why is rehabilitation after an SCI important?

You will begin rehabilitation after your hospitalization. The goal of rehabilitation is to help you function with an SCI. The rehabilitation team includes the following:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.