Your brain and spinal cord work together to form the central nervous system, a complex mechanism that controls everything the body can do. With a system this complicated and crucial to everyday life, it’s no wonder that even the slightest injury or damage to the spinal cord can wreak a fair amount of havoc. When it comes to your spine, complete and incomplete spinal cord injury can present unique challenges to your future. 

Complete and incomplete spinal cord injuries can be devastating for people, but their prognosis can change drastically based on the type of injury they suffer. These are the two most common types of spinal cord injuries, and the difference between complete and incomplete spinal cord injuries is far more than mere semantics when it comes to these conditions.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at the key differences between these two injury types and how NJ Spine and Wellness can help.

What Are Complete and Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries?

A spinal cord injury (SCI) can occur from any number of forceful impacts, from sports collisions to car accidents. When the protection around your spinal cord is damaged, it decreases your brain’s ability to send and receive messages to the rest of the body, leading to impaired senses and motor function. 

Your spinal cord is composed of four unique sections that work together to keep your body moving — the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral regions. Each section controls a different aspect of your body, and damage to any part of your spinal cord can impair the functions of that section. Whether these sections suffer complete or incomplete damage can determine the level of injury and potential recovery timelines. 

Of course, not all spinal cord injuries are the same, and the big-picture differentiator is whether the damage is incomplete or complete.

Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries

When you sustain an incomplete spinal cord injury, your brain still has some level of communication with your spinal cord. While you may experience some form of impaired muscle function and movement below the location of the injury, there is some degree of sensation left. Many diagnosed with an incomplete SCI also struggle with long-term chronic pain as a result.

An incomplete spinal injury can cause temporary paraplegia in patients that can potentially be repaired through surgery or physical therapy. Their motor and sensory functions after the accident often depend on the location of the injury site and how severe the damage is. 

Complete Spinal Cord Injuries

Complete spinal cord injuries entail a total lack of sensation and movement below the place of injury, and they typically lead to complete paraplegia in patients. This type of damage to the spinal cord can result in permanent effects that impact the person’s ability to move anything below where the injury occurred. 

Common characteristics of a complete spinal cord injury include sensory loss, loss of motion, difficulty with incontinence, and problems with the respiratory system, depending on how high on the body the injury took place. Because of the complete sensory loss, there’s typically no pain associated with a patient’s paralysis. However, they can experience pain or discomfort in other parts of their body as a result.

How Are These Injury Types Different?

Immediately following an accident that causes a spinal cord injury, it’s often difficult to tell whether the patient has a complete or incomplete spinal cord injury due to swelling and impact after the injury. Doctors can have difficulty determining their patient’s prognosis beyond the fact they suffered a spinal cord injury. However, over time, the difference will become clear.

With an incomplete spinal cord injury, your spinal cord can still retain some level of function, allowing for faster progress in recovery. Your doctor can prescribe a physical therapy routine that focuses on strengthening the areas around the injury and help hasten your recovery timetable within reason.

On the other hand, a complete spinal cord injury means that there’s no function, movement, or sensation, typically from the point of injury and below. The brain can no longer send messages to these parts of the body through the central nervous system via the spinal cord. This type of injury often requires making changes to your lifestyle as you adjust to your new normal. Depending on the location, surgery may be a treatment option to address the injury or to help stabilize the affected area. 

Many doctors use the ASIA Impairment Scale to measure the level of complete and incomplete spinal cord injuries. There is only one form of complete spinal cord injury on this scale, whereas there are varying levels of incomplete injuries. These range from the more drastic level B, in which patients have a sensory function but no motor function, to level D, in which motor function is preserved through at least half of key muscles functioning to a certain degree.

Contact NJ Spine and Wellness Regarding Care for a Spinal Cord Injury

Whether your injury classifies as complete or incomplete, NJ Spine and Wellness is here to help. As an out-of-network healthcare provider, we offer premium physical therapy and surgical care to help you Get Better Faster. We provide premium service and committed treatment modalities without the red tape of overly long wait times and complicated processes. 

Reach out to us today to schedule an appointment!