Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury

Symptoms vary depending on the severity and location of the SCI. At first, the patient may experience spinal shock, which causes loss of feeling, muscle movement, and reflexes below the level of injury. Spinal shock usually lasts from several hours to several weeks. As the period of shock subsides, other symptoms appear, depending on the location of the injury. 

Generally, the higher up the level of the injury to the spinal cord, the more severe the symptoms. For example, an injury at C2 or C3 (the second and third vertebrae in the spinal column), affects the respiratory muscles and the ability to breathe. A lower injury, in the lumbar vertebrae, may affect nerve and muscle control to the bladder, bowel, and legs.

SCI is classified according to the person's type of loss of motor and sensory function. The following are the main types of classifications:

  • quadriplegia (four) - involves loss of movement and sensation in all four limbs (arms and legs). It usually occurs as a result of injury at T1 or above. Quadriplegia also affects the chest muscles and injuries at C4 or above require a mechanical breathing machine (ventilator).
  • paraplegia (two like parts) - involves loss of movement and sensation in the lower half of the body (right and left legs). It usually occurs as a result of injuries at T1 or below.
  • triplegia (three) - involves the loss of movement and sensation in one arm and both legs and usually results from incomplete SCI.

The following are the most common symptoms of acute spinal cord injuries. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • muscle weakness or paralysis in the trunk, arms or legs
  • loss of feeling in the trunk, arms, or legs
  • muscle spasticity
  • breathing problems
  • problems with heart rate and blood pressure
  • digestive problems
  • loss of bowel and bladder function
  • sexual dysfunction

The symptoms of SCI may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

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