What Are the Types of Spinal Injuries?

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Spinal cord injuries are relatively uncommon. The incidence rate of spine injuries per year in the US is about 54 cases per 1 million people, according to the 2019 Spinal Cord Injury Data Sheet from the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCSC). This equates to around 17,730 new cases each year. There are up to 363,000 people living with spinal cord injuries in the US, however. The most common causes of spine injuries are car accidents, slip and falls, acts of violence and sports. Every spine injury is unique, and all spinal injuries are serious.

types of spinal injuries

Incomplete and Complete Spinal Injuries

Spinal injuries can be catastrophic due to the risk of paralysis: the loss of sensation and function in the body or limbs. Any damage to the spinal cord could irrevocably destroy the messaging system between the brain and the body – paralyzing the victim or leading to various levels of sensory and function changes.

Physicians often refer to the severity of a spinal injury in terms of completeness. An incomplete spine injury will allow a victim to retain some movement and function below the point of injury, to varying degrees. A complete spinal cord injury removes all ability to move and feel sensation in the affected areas. With both types, it may be possible for the victim to regain some feeling or movement with surgeries, rehabilitation and other treatments.

Spastic and Flaccid Spinal Injuries

Spine injuries can cause spastic and/or flaccid paralysis. With spastic paralysis, the muscles tighten and become hard. They may occasionally move or jerk without the victim’s control (spasm). Flaccid paralysis relaxes the muscles and makes them shrink. In many cases, a victim might experience flaccid paralysis immediately after the injury, during spinal shock, and then change to spastic paralysis while in recovery.

Spinal Concussion

A spinal concussion occurs due to trauma impacting the spine. A spinal cord concussion typically does not result in a permanent injury. It may or may not involve vertebral damage and pathologic changes. Most patients recover fully from spinal concussions with 48 hours; however, some patients may take weeks or months to achieve full recoveries.


The loss of function and sensation in all four limbs is tetraplegia, also called quadriplegia. Tetraplegia is a spine injury that results in paralysis of the trunk, arms, hands, legs, feet and pelvic organs. Tetraplegia may or may not affect the respiratory system and the victim’s ability to move the neck. Tetraplegia can happen with injuries above the first thoracic vertebra, within the cervical sections of the spine.

Incomplete tetraplegia is the most common neurological level of spine injury, according to the NSCSC. It accounts for 47.6% of new spine injuries. The second and third most common are incomplete and complete paraplegia, which differ from each other by just 0.3% in terms of frequency.

Paraplegia and Triplegia

Paraplegia refers to a type of spinal injury that affects the lower part of the body only. Someone with paraplegia may lose feeling and sensation in both legs, the legs and the pelvic organs, or from the trunk down. Paraplegia is most common with injuries that affect the lower spine: the thoracic and lumbar sections. Triplegia is a less common spinal cord injury involving the paralysis of three limbs only, such as both legs and one arm.

Monoplegia and Diplegia

Two other types of spinal cord injuries are monoplegia and diplegia. These describe types of paralysis that do not affect all four limbs. Monoplegia is the paralysis of one limb only, while diplegia is the paralysis of any two limbs on corresponding parts of the body. Paralysis of both arms, for example, is diplegia.

Every type of spinal cord injury is serious and requires immediate medical attention. If you or a loved one has a spine injury, talk to an Omaha spinal cord injury attorney about your case. You might be eligible for financial compensation for your catastrophic injury.