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Areas of damage with spinal cord injuries

Those lucky enough to survive an accident may be left with devastating spinal cord injuries. The higher up the vertebrae are that are injured, the more significant the damage.

C1 – C4 are the high-cervical nerves, and damaging them causes almost total paralysis. The legs, body, arms and hands are immobilised, and the individual may not be able to breathe or cough on his or her own. Speech impairment is also likely. Controlling the bowel and bladder is no longer possible.

Those with C1 – C4 injuries are known as quadriplegics and require round-the-clock care and total assistance with all activities of daily life. Some may use motorised wheelchairs equipped with controls.

C5 – C8 are the low-cervical nerves responsible for movement of the hands and arms. Those with C5 – C8 injuries can speak and breathe unassisted.

A C5 injury usually:

-- Enables some motion in the arms

-- Causes weakness in the diaphragm

-- Results in partial or total paralysis in the legs, body, wrists and hands

-- Requires assistance with ADL and transfers in and out of motorised wheelchairs

C6 injuries cause:

-- Problems with wrist extensions

-- Paralysed legs, body and hands

-- Weakened breathing, but speech remains uncompromised

-- Loss of bowel and bladder control, although some can drive modified vehicles

A C7 injury allows:

-- Some control extending the fingers and elbows

-- Normal shoulder movement and arm straightening

-- Management of ADLs with some assistance

-- Limited or nonexistent bladder and bowel control

-- Driving with adapted vehicle

C8 injuries result in:

-- Ablity to hold/release items

-- Some hand motion

-- Ability to complete most ADLs

-- Ability to operate adapted automobiles

-- Little control of bladder/bowels

T1 – T5 injuries don't affect movement in the arms and hands, allowing use of manual wheelchairs. Some can walk with braces.

T6 – T12 injuries leave upper body motion intact. Walking with braces may be possible.

L1 – L5 injuries cause reduced function in the legs and hips and loss of bladder and bowel control.

With a spinal cord injury, life as you know can change instantly. Seeking guidance from a personal injury lawyer can be helpful.

Source: Shepherd Center, "Understanding Spinal Cord Injury," accessed Aug. 07, 2015

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