Spinal cord injuries to the neck, also called the cervical region, often result in quadriplegia. Quadriplegia is a classification of spinal cord injury used to define the loss of movement and sensation in all four limbs.
Levels of Injury
There are four basic levels of injury in the cervical region. The levels refer to how high up on the spinal column the injury occurred. The levels below are listed from highest to lowest:
- C-1 to C-4. Because they occur high up, these injuries not only result in the loss of use of all four limbs, they can also compromise breathing and other involuntary functions.
- C-5. These injuries often cause a lack of control in the hands and wrists, with some control in the biceps and shoulder area.
- C-6. Patients with injuries at this level can often have some wrist control, but are not able to move their hands.
- C-7 and T-1. Patients with injuries at this level are often able to straighten their arms, but have issues with dexterity and control of the hands and fingers. This is the lowest level of cervical injury. Any spinal cord injury below this level will result in paraplegia, in which the hands are not affected.
Types of Cervical Injuries
There are two types of cervical injuries: complete and incomplete. Complete injury means that there is no function below the level of the injury, and both sides of the body are equally affected. An incomplete injury means that there is function to some degree or another below the area of injury.