Spinal Cord Injury 101

Aaron Baker
Spinal Cord Injury Lifestyle Specialist | Shield HealthCare
11/10/23  1:36 PM PST
SCI 101: the basics of SCI. cork board with a sticky note pinned and a hand-drawn lightbulb, with text saying "SCI 101"

Understanding The Basics Of SCI

A spinal cord injury has an immense impact on your life, and those around you. While learning how to manage your new body, you are being fed through a fire hose with new terms and diagnosis of how you present. What do they all mean? Where do you fall?

Understanding the basics of a spinal cord injury is vital, whether you’re the patient or a family member. In this blog, we’ll explore the basic aspects of a SCI, including what it is, its causes, types, and terminology.

So, what is a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)? It’s a vital component of the central nervous system, responsible for transmitting signals between the brain and the rest of the body. A spinal cord injury is damage to this delicate bundle of nerves and tissue that results in a loss of function below the level of the injury.


Common Causes

Spinal cord injuries can occur due to various factors, but some of the most common causes include:

  • Traffic Accidents = 50%
  • Falls = 24%
  • Other Causes = 17%
  • Sports = 6%
  • Extreme Sports = 3%


Categories and Consequences

Spinal cord injuries are classified into two main categories:

  • Complete SCI: A total loss of sensation and motor function below the level of the injury. Complete injuries are typically caused by severe trauma, such as a spinal fracture.
  • Incomplete SCI: These injuries result in partial loss of sensory and motor function below the level of the injury. Incomplete injuries can vary widely in terms of severity and impact.

Possible consequences at the different levels of spinal cord injuries:

  • Cervical Spine (C1-C8): Respiratory function disorder, limited arm and hand function, and cardiovascular dysregulation.
  • Thoracic Spine (TH1-TH12): walking function disorder, weakening of rear stability and dysregulation of body temperature.
  • Lumbar Spine (L1-L5): hip, leg and foot movement disorders.
  • Sacral Spine (S1-S5): bladder and bowel function disorders and limited sexual function.

The American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) exam is the standardized test all doctors in the United States use to assess the extent of an injury.

  • A: Complete, no motor or sensory function is preserved in the sacral segments S4-S5.
  • B: Incomplete, sensory but not motor function is preserved below the neurological level and includes the sacral segments S4-S5.
  • C: Incomplete, motor function is preserved below the neurological level, and more than half of key muscles below the neurological level have a muscle grade less than 3.
  • D: Incomplete, motor function is preserved below the neurological level, and at least half of key muscles below the neurological level have a muscle grade of 3 or more.
  • E: Normal, motor and sensory function are normal.


Being informed can better assist the individuals living with spinal cord injuries on their journey to recovery, adaptation, and a full life.

In Health, Aaron Baker

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I have been paralyzed from the waist down since 2013. I’ve been steadily gaining weight since then, and I’m starting to get self-conscious about it, especially since people already stare at me in my wheelchair. What are some exercises, things I can do to help me lose this extra weight?
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