What Are the Levels of Spinal Cord Injuries?
Spinal cord injuries are often life-altering. You need the help of experienced personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers if you suffer any type of damage to your spinal cord in an accident that wasn’t your fault. The lawyers at Silverman, McDonald & Friedman are ready to assert your rights. Call us now.
Accident victims who experience a spinal cord injury (SCI) may become fully or partially paralyzed. SCI victims often live with chronic pain, and are unable to work again or must work in a different career post-accident. Patients often require long-term physical, occupational, rehabilitation, and vocational therapy.
Common causes of SCI injuries include vehicle accidents, construction accidents, industrial accidents, and slips and falls. Employees who suffer a spinal cord injury have the right to seek payment of all their medical bills through workers’ compensation and, generally, about two-thirds of their lost wages.
Anyone who suffers an SCI through the negligence of a non-employer can file a personal injury claim for all their medical expenses, all their lost income, and their pain and suffering.
According to SCI Progress, the spinal cord is the part of your anatomy that sends and receives signals from the brain to your body’s extremities. The spinal cord ensures that you can wiggle your toes and move your fingers. It helps you breathe properly, regulate your body temperature, monitor your heart rate, and “control life-saving reflexes.” The spinal cord “runs from your brain stem to around the first or second lumbar vertebrae—around 40 cm.” This long cord of nerves is contained within the spine. The individual vertebrae of your help protect your spinal cord while allowing for flexibility.
The cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal vertebrae
Your spine is composed of the following vertebrae, each of which has a unique anatomical number:
- The cervical vertebrae. C1-C7. These vertebrae are located in your neck.
- The thoracic vertebrae. T1-T12. These vertebrae begin at your shoulders and extend through your upper back.
- The lumbar vertebrae. L1-L5. These vertebrae start near the small of your back. They flow into the sacral vertebrae.
- The sacral vertebrae. Called 5 as a collective, these vertebrae are located in your pelvis.
- The coccygeal vertebrae. Called 4 as a collective, these vertebrae are located in your pelvis.
Each section of vertebrae corresponds to sections of the spinal cord, and each section is responsible for certain tasks. The spinal cord in the:
- Cervical vertebrae assists breathing and control arm movements.
- Thoracic vertebrae assists the chest and abdominal muscles.
- Lumbar vertebrae assists leg movements, hip movements, and bladder/bowel control.
- Sacral and coccygeal vertebrae assists bladder/bowel control, balance, and sexual functions.
When the spinal cord is damaged, medical professionals assign the injury by vertebrae level.
Cervical spinal cord injuries
The most severe injuries are in the cervical regions. Many cervical injuries may be fatal. The brain may also be damaged due to the close proximity between the neck and the brain. SCI Progress notes that “cervical spinal cord injuries almost always result in quadriplegia,” and injuries to the C1-C4 vertebrae “always cause quadriplegia, and can cause problems with breathing, speaking, and bladder/bowel function.”
Injuries to the C5-C7 SCI levels generally cause the following disorders:
- C5 SCI. The patient may not be able to extend their elbows. Their hand and wrist movements will likely be reduced. Breathing may be difficult.
- C6 SCI. Patients likely will have difficulty extending their elbows or wrists. Finger movement is not likely. While the patient may be able to speak, their breathing will be weaker.
- C7 SCI. Some finger extension may be possible. The arms, shoulders, wrists, and elbows should be able to function.
- C8 SCI. The patient may be able to loosely grasp and release objects. Some hand movements may still be difficult.
Cervical injuries of the spine generally mean a lifetime of daily care. Special equipment will be needed for bowel function. Patients may suffer neurogenic shock that can cause organ failure. Injuries are normally permanent. Rehabilitation therapy focuses on using the non-affected areas.
Thoracic spinal cord injuries
Thoracic SCIs affect the upper chest, mid-back, and abdominal areas. SCI injuries of this type (the most common type of SCI injury) are generally divided into the following two categories:
- T1 to T5 SCIs generally affect the upper body. Patients often suffer paraplegia or the inability to move their trunk and legs. T1 patients may lose arm and/or hand function.
- T6 to T12 SCIs normally affect the abdominal and back muscles. SCI Progress reports that “patients will likely still incur paraplegia, but may be better able to control balance in the trunk of the body. These injuries also usually result in limited to no bowel control.”
The degree of recovery varies from patient to patient. A motorized wheelchair often helps. Patients normally still require help for many tasks, and some patients may be able to stand with a brace or walker. Many patients with a thoracic TCI also learn how to operate a modified car.
Lumbar spinal cord injuries
- L1 to L5 SCIs affect the legs and hips, and the patient’s ability to control their bowels. The affected muscles correspond to the affected vertebrae.
- L1 to L2 SCIs affect flexing and bending.
- L3 SCIs affect your ability to straighten your knee.
- L4 SCIs affect toe extension.
Lumbar SCI accident victims are normally able to walk with braces or a wheelchair. Many patients can recover with physical therapy.
Sacral spinal cord injuries
Accident victims with an S1 to S5 spinal cord Injury generally suffer the least harmful injuries. The ability to control the bowels may be affected and sexual function may be impaired. Sacral SCIs, however, are fairly rare.
At Silverman, McDonald & Friedman, our Delaware personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers have more than 100 years of combined experience fighting for injury victims. We work with your doctors, and independent doctors when necessary, to confirm your medical diagnosis, to show all the treatments you needed and will need, and to make clear just how extensively the injuries (including spinal cord injuries) have changed your life. We demand full compensation for all your medical expenses and all other damages to which you’re entitled. To speak with a respected personal injury attorney, please call us at 302.888.2900 or fill out our contact form to speak with us at our offices in Wilmington, Newark, and Seaford.
Attorney Jeffrey S. Friedman joined Silverman, McDonald & Friedman in 2001. He graduated from Widener University School of Law, and is admitted to practice law in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and in several Federal Circuit courts. He areas of concentration include auto accident and workers’ compensation cases. Read more about Attorney Friedman here.