An incomplete spinal cord injury is characterized by some movement or sensation below the point of injury. As acute treatment becomes much more advanced, incomplete injuries are becoming more common. In an incomplete injury, the patient can often move one limb more than another, may have more function on one side than the other, or might have some sensation in parts of the body that can’t be moved.
The effects of an incomplete injury are dependent upon whether the front, back, side, or center of the spinal cord was affected. There are five classifications of incomplete spinal cord injuries: anterior cord syndrome, central cord syndrome, posterior cord syndrome, Brown-Sequart syndrome, and cauda equina lesion.
- Anterior Cord Syndrome: The injury occurs at the front of the spinal cord, leaving the person with partial or complete loss of ability to sense pain, temperature, and touch below the level of injury. Some people with this type of injury later recover some movement.
- Central Cord Syndrome: The injury occurs at the center of the spinal cord, and usually results in the loss of arm function. Some leg, bowel, and bladder control may be preserved. Some recovery from this injury may start in the legs, and then move upward.
- Posterior Cord Syndrome: The injury occurs toward the back of the spinal cord. Usually muscle power, pain, and temperature sensation is preserved. However, the person may have trouble with limb coordination.
- Brown-Sequard Syndrome: This injury occurs on one side of the spinal cord. Pain and temperature sensation will be present on the injured side, but impairment or loss of movement will also result. The opposite side of the injury will have normal movement, but pain and temperature sensation will be affected or lost.
- Cauda equine lesion: Damage to the nerves that fan out of the spinal cord at the first and second lumbar region of the spine can cause partial or complete loss of movement and feeling. Depending upon the extend of initial damage, sometimes these nerves can grow back and resume functionality.