A Short Guide to Cervical, Lumbar, and Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms

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You may have been overjoyed to hear that your family member’s spinal cord was intact after her accident. The doctor made a point of saying that the full extent of the damage wasn’t known yet, but if the spinal cord is intact, she has a better chance of walking again, right?

What many people don’t realize is that a spinal cord injury can still result in loss of function even if the spinal cord remains intact. A more important factor in your relative’s recovery is the location of the injury: generally speaking, the higher the injury, the more serious the consequences.

The spinal cord carries information from the brain to the rest of the body. When the cord is damaged, the signal is interrupted, causing the patient to experience sensory loss at and below the point of the injury. For example, victims of a cervical (neck) spinal injury may lose ability in all extremities, while lower back injuries may affect fewer bodily systems.

Here Is a Short Guide to Spinal Cord Injuries Based on the Location of Trauma


A spinal cord injury to the back of the neck can often prove fatal. Trauma to the brain stem can interrupt more than just motor function, causing blood pressure problems, difficulty controlling body temperature, and an inability to breathe independently.

Surviving patients may experience a change in normal bladder and bowel functions, including incontinence or spasming. Most often, patients will suffer lost mobility in the arms or legs in the form of weakness, numbness, pain, or total paralysis.


These spinal cord injuries occur at chest level, from the bottom of the neck to mid-back. Symptoms commonly affect the legs, but may cause numbness in the arms or fingers as well. Patients may have incontinence issues or constipation, as well as an inability to walk or control spasming in the lower limbs.


A spinal injury to the lower back level can affect one or both legs. Problems with bladder and bowel function are often reported, and many patients may experience sexual dysfunction as well. If sensation is not completely lost, patients often experience sensory changes—such as tingling, pain, or pressure in the extremities.

No matter where your loved one was struck, one thing is certain: it will take time before she is able to process what is happening and to begin her long recovery. Click the links provided on this page to read more about what to expect from these kinds of injuries.