The impact spinal cord injury (SCI) has on a person’s body can be devastating. Factors such as age, weight and general physical health can also affect a person’s functionality and recovery following an injury.
Again, the higher the injury on the spinal cord, the more significant the impact on the body. Injuries occurring in the upper cervical nerves (C1-C4) are usually the most severe. Symptoms can include paralysis in the arms, hands, legs and torso. The patient may not be able to breathe or cough without assistance. Loss of bowel and bladder control is common and speech may be impaired.
When all four limbs are affected, this is called quadriplegia. A quadriplegic requires 24-hour assistance with most basic life needs including bathing, dressing, eating and getting in and out of bed. Highly specialized wheelchairs and computers have been developed to help patients move about on their own.
Lower cervical nerve (C5 – C8) injuries can be slightly less severe, but will still greatly impact limb movement, especially the hands, wrists, and legs. Some arm movement may be possible. The effects on breathing and speech may not be as severe as a higher cervical nerve injury. Bladder and bowel control will likely be limited. A person with lower cervical nerve injuries will have greater ability to move with specialized wheelchairs and may be able to drive in an adapted vehicle.
Injuries occurring in the upper thoracic nerves (T1 – T5) primarily affect the torso and legs. This condition is called paraplegia. Because arm and hand function is usually normal, a manual wheelchair may be used and driving in a specially adapted vehicle is possible. Injuries occurring in the lower thoracic nerves (T6 – T12) will also affect the legs and torso, though walking may be possible with the use of braces. Bowel and bladder control will likely be affected.
Injuries to the lumbar nerves (L1 – L5) and sacral nerves (S1 – S5) will affect the hips and legs and limit bowel and bladder control. Wheelchairs and braces will help a patient achieve mobility; walking may still be possible even with sacral nerve damage.