Spinal cord injury levels are used to explain the different severities of paralysis following an injury to the spinal cord. Generally, the higher the level of injury to the spinal cord the greater the degree of paralysis will result. The image on the right shows the vertebra from which the spinal nerve exits above or below the spinal segment. In the cervical vertebrae the spinal nerves exit the spinal column above the vertebra, except for C8 which exits below the 7th cervical vertebra. From T1 downwards all spinal nerves exit the spinal column below their corresponding vertebra.
In order to help understand how the level of spinal cord injury affects a persons mobility, the following spinal cord injury level guide has been produced. This is only a general guide and because every spinal cord injury is different, there may be variations in functional ability from person to person.
Spinal cord injuries are categorised as two types of injury:
A complete spinal cord injury means that there is no function or sensation below the level of the injury
An incomplete spinal cord injury means that there is some function or sensation below the primary level of the injury. A person with an incomplete injury may be able to move one limb more than another, may be able to feel parts of the body that cannot be moved, or may have more functioning on one side of the body than the other.
In order to help classify differing degrees of spinal cord injury, the ASIA impairment scale is used to help compare and understand residual function.
Mobility & Movement
Limited head and neck movement depending on muscle strength.
Complete paralysis of arms, body and legs.
Sympathetic nervous system will be compromised, possibility of autonomic dysreflexia.
Electric wheelchair may possibly be controlled by either a chin or "sip and puff" controller, this will vary depending on dexterity.
The person will require total assistance when transferring from a bed to a wheelchair and from a wheelchair into a car. A hoist will have to be used, possibly by two assistants for safety.
Complete assistance required during mealtimes.
Inability to breathe using chest muscles or diaphragm, therefore the person will be dependant on a ventilator to breathe. A portable ventilator can be attached to the back of a wheelchair during transport.
Oxygen and humidification may be required.
Assistance required to clear secretions from trachea, and assistance in coughing will be required.
Complete personal assistance is required. The person will need assistance with washing, dressing, and assistance with bowel and bladder management.
Complete domestic care is required, such as household cleaning, washing of clothes and kitchen duties, preparation of meals and general household duties.
A computer may be operated using iris recognition, mouth stick or voice recognition. Telephone can be used using voice recognition and headset.
The above functionality guide is only a general guide. Abilities will vary depending on the persons weight, existing medical conditions and age.