What is a Spinal Cord Injury?
A spinal cord injury is generally defined as damage or trauma to the spinal cord that results in a loss or impaired function. The paralysis from the damaged cellular structures called neurons in the cord may affect mobility, sensation, bladder function, bowel function or sexual function.
Following permanent damage to the spinal cord a person's condition may be referred to as either tetraplegia (quadriplegia) or paraplegia. These are the general terms used to describe the resultant medical condition. The classification of injury depends on the spinal cord injury level and severity of a persons paralysis and how it affects their limbs.
The spinal cord injury level is referred to alpha numerically, relating to the affected segment damaged in the spinal cord, ie, C4, T5, L5, S2 etc.
The most frequent causes of cellular damage to the spinal cord resulting in tetraplegia or paraplegia are:
Trauma due to:
- Car/motorcycle accident
- Sports injuries
- Physical attacks
- Gunshot/knife injury
Disease or damage due to:
- Transverse myelitis
- Spina bifida
- Friedreich's ataxia
- Spinal cord tumour
- Spinal cord stroke
- Spinal stenosis
The resulting damage to the spinal cord is known as a lesion, and the type of paralysis is known as tetraplegia or quadriplegia if the injury is in the cervical (neck) region, or generally as paraplegia if the injury is in the thoracic, lumbar or sacral region.
It is possible for someone to suffer a broken neck,or a broken back without becoming paralysed. This occurs when there is a fracture or dislocation of the vertebrae, but the spinal cord has not been damaged. Sometimes minor swelling of the spinal cord will result in temporary paralysis, which may be recovered from after several weeks or months of therapy.
What is a Complete and Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury
There are typically two types of lesions associated with a spinal cord injury. These are known as a complete spinal cord injury and an incomplete spinal cord injury. A complete type of injury means the person is completely paralysed and can neither feel or move anything below their lesion. An incomplete injury, means only part of the spinal cord is damaged. A person with an incomplete injury may have sensation below their lesion but no movement, or visa versa. There are many types in incomplete spinal cord injuries, and no two are the same.
Such incomplete spinal cord injuries are known as:
What is the Difference Between Quadraplegic, Tetraplegic and Paraplegic?
Quadraplegic is derived from two separate words from two different languages, Latin and Greek. The word "quadra", meaning "four" which is derived from Latin, relates to the number of limbs. "plegic", is derived from the Greek word "plegia", meaning paralysis.
Put the two together, and you have "quadraplegia".
"Tetra" is derived from the Greek word for "four". "para" is derived from the Greek word for "two". Hence: tetraplegic and paraplegic.
In Europe, the term for 4 limb paralysis has always been tetraplegia. The Europeans would never dream of combining a Latin and Greek root in one word. In 1991, when the American Spinal Cord Injury Classification system was being revised, the definition of names was discussed. The British are more aware of Greek versus Latin names. Since plegia is a Greek word and quadri is Latin, the term quadriplegia mixes language sources. Upon review of the literature, it was recommended that the term tetraplegia be used by the American Spinal Cord Association so that there are not two different words in English referring to the same thing.