There are approximately 17,000 new spinal cord injury (SCI) cases in the United States every year, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center. SCIs tend to be serious and require long-term (as well as costly) rehabilitative care and therapy. As a result, they can leave patients and their families with significant financial as well as emotional burdens as they cope with the injury.
Automobile accidents are the leading cause of SCIs, and they account for roughly 40% of all new cases every year. Falls (30%), acts of violence (15%), sports-related accidents (10%) and medical issues (5%) make up the rest.
It can be challenging to navigate the health care system after you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury, especially when faced with new terms and illnesses you may be unfamiliar with. This can make the process of recovery and receiving the help you need that much harder. Educating yourself about what SCIs are, how they occur, how they classified, and how they are treated will go a long way toward helping you chart out a recovery plan for yourself or an injured loved one.
What Is an SCI?
A spinal cord injury is an injury that involves damage to the spinal cord that impedes the transmission of information (electrical impulses) between the brain and other parts of the body.
Spinal cord injuries vary in severity depending on where along the spine the injury occurred and the extent of the trauma or damage that the spinal cord sustained as a result. In most cases, SCI cases are classified as either incomplete or complete spinal cord injuries, and these are the two most common types of injuries that occur every year.
Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries
Incomplete tetraplegia and paraplegia are the most common types of incomplete spinal cord injuries. They account for more than 65% of all SCIs.
Spinal cord contusion (bruising), a partial tear of the spinal cord, stretching, pressure on the spinal cord, and the presence of bone fragments or foreign bodies embedded in or affecting the spinal cord are classified as incomplete spinal cord injuries. Patients suffering these types of injuries may experience diminished sensory or motor functions at or near the location of the injury. Survivors of SCI injuries of these types often recover some of their lost bodily functions over time, depending on their health and medical history.
Complete Spinal Cord Injuries
Damage to the spinal cord resulting in a complete loss of motor and sensory functions in the parts of the body affected by the injury is classified as a complete spinal cord injury. Complete SCIs account for about 30% or more of all SCIs. Thanks to improvements in SCI treatment and research, this percentage continues to fall.
Diagnosing Spinal Cord Injuries
The International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury (ISNCSCI) grades SCIs on a scale from A to E, based on the severity of the injury. Each letter grade corresponds to a different level of physical impairment.
An A grade SCI is defined as complete, with a lack of sensory or motor functions in the affected parts of the body. An E grade SCI mean sensory and motor functions are normal despite the fact that the patient suffered an SCI. An E grade SCI can, however, result in neurological or muscular symptoms.
If you know the location of your injury, whether or not your injury is complete, and what level or grade your injury should be assigned, you can begin looking into the prognosis of the injury and ask your doctor the right questions based on your unique case. While complete SCIs pose a greater health challenge than incomplete SCIs, they occur less frequently. Furthermore, you always have recourse to healthcare professionals and loved ones when faced with serious recovery-related questions. Therefore, it is important that you are open about your injury and that you learn what you can about it. Discuss your feelings and your progress with your doctor to chart out as thorough and comprehensive a recovery plan for yourself as possible.