These extremely high injuries can result in either complete or incomplete quadriplegia/tetraplegia, in which the voluntary movement and sensation in all four limbs are compromised. While the patient is completely paralyzed, some function may be retained depending upon the exact location of the injury.

Complete and Incomplete Injuries

C-1 to C-4 injuries can be classified as either complete or incomplete injuries. Complete injuries result in the total loss of movement and sensation below the point of injury, while incomplete injuries indicate that some function below the level of injury is retained.

Effects of C-1 to C-4 Injuries

Patients with C-1 to C-4 spinal cord injuries generally use diaphragm function and require a ventilator to breathe. Other complications may include:

  • Bowel and bladder dysfunction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Difficulty regulating heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, and body temperature
  • Spasticity 
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Osteoporosis
  • Gallbladder and renal stones

Treatment for C-1 to C-4 Injuries

Immediate medical intervention following the injury will increase the likelihood of the best possible long-term prognosis. In most cases, the acute stage of injury is followed by extensive rehabilitation, which is designed to help the survivor adapt both physically and mentally to his or her new condition. While their lives will certainly be different than they were before the injury, with the correct intervention and support, survivors with C-1 to C-4 injuries can go on to lead very fulfilling lives. In the meantime, scientists continue to study treatments for spinal cord injury, designed to both reduce the effect of the injury and promote the growth of functional nerve fibers.