spinal cord injury

The Differences Between a Complete vs Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

If you’ve recently been in an accident resulting in an injury to your spinal cord, you’ll want to determine the severity of the injury quickly. Shortly after your accident, your doctor will be able to determine if your injury is complete or incomplete. This diagnosis will determine your recovery plan post-trauma. Here is the difference in a complete vs incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI):

Complete SCI

In short, a Complete Spinal Cord Injury occurs when the spinal cord is completely compressed or severed during whatever incident caused your injury. When this happens, the brain can no longer send signals below the point of injury, resulting in possible paralysis. In some cases, the paralysis only extends past the injury to the lower half of your body, leaving your upper half mobile. Thanks to modern medicine and technology, complete SCIs are becoming increasingly rare.

physical therapyRecovery from complete SCIs is possible but can be very challenging and take a long time. Early intervention and prompt care, along with proper medical care and rehabilitation, can make the recovery process much easier. We also recommend looking into a good physical therapist as early as possible. Continual therapy can make all the difference in your long-term recovery journey.

Symptoms of Complete SCI

In the early stages of your injury, it can be hard to distinguish the differences between a complete vs incomplete spinal cord injury. However, doctors will normally be able to tell once the initial swelling and trauma of the injury has subsided.

While it is normal to experience some loss of sensation and mobility below the site of the injury in the beginning, it is the continued lack of these factors that can be a sign you’re dealing with a complete SCI. If you also have problems controlling your bladder and bowel movements, this can be a complete symptom. Lastly, if your injury is high enough and you find yourself having trouble breathing, this can point towards a complete SCI.

Incomplete SCI

Similarly to complete SCIs, Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries also occur when the cord is compressed or injured. The difference is that the cord isn’t completely severed and the patient’s brain is still able to send signals below the site of the injury, resulting in the patient retaining motor skills and sensation in their lower body. Incomplete SCIs are the more common of the two types of injuries, making up for about 65% of all SCIs.

Since there are so many different manifestations of incomplete SCIs, the road to recovery looks different for everyone. Types of injuries can include Anterior Cord Syndrome, Brown-Sequard Syndrome, Cauda Equina Syndrome and more. Depending on your diagnosis, that will determine your next steps towards recovery.

Symptoms of Incomplete SCI

back painDepending on how you obtained your injury and the extent of the damage, that will determine which symptoms you may experience. While it may not seem like a positive thing, experiencing pain below the site of the injury can actually be a good sign. If you can feel the injury, that means you’re not dealing with the numbness that accompanies paralysis.

While you may not regain all of our sensation and muscle movement below the injury at first, feeling anything at all is a positive thing. These sensations and movements may vary and you’re sure to have good and bad days, but with continued therapy and training, you may slowly be able to regain feelings and strength below the injury.

While the difference between a complete vs incomplete spinal cord injury may be slim at first, it is important to monitor your progress so you can begin to determine the next steps in your recovery. Do you have any more questions about SCIs or what the next steps are after you’ve been injured in an accident? Contact one of our lawyers today and let us help you begin your road to recovery!

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