Physiological Locations of Spinal Cord Injury

The spinal cord, also called the medulla spinalis, is surrounded by bones called vertebra, which are named according to their location. Generally speaking, the higher in the spinal column the injury occurs, the more severe the physical limitations will be.

Cervical injury

Cervical vertebrae are located at the top of the spine and are called, from the top down, C-1 through C-8. Injuries to this area usually result in loss of function in the legs and the arms, called quadriplegia. The degree of the loss of movement and sensation depends largely on the specific area of the spinal cord that was injured. For example, injuries of C-1, C-2, or C-3 may require the patient to have a ventilator in order to breathe. C-5 injuries can result in loss of control below the elbows. With C-7 injuries, the patient may be able to move the arms, but will have difficulty with the fine motor functioning of the hands and fingers.

Thoracic injury

Thoracic vertebrae are located below the cervical vertebrae and are numbered T-1 through T-12. Injuries to this area usually affect the chest and legs. With T-1 to T-8 injuries, the patient will likely have control of his or her hands, but will have poor abdominal muscle control. Injuries to T-9 to T-12 have a less limiting effect on abdominal and trunk control.

Lumbar or Sacral injury

Lumbar vertebrae are below the thoracic vertebrae and are named L1-L5. Injuries to this area typically result in loss of function of the legs and hips.

Sacral vertebrae are at the lowest points on the spine and are numbered S-1 through S-5. Injuries to this area, like injuries to the spinal cord in the lumbar region, typically result in loss of functioning in the legs and hips.

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