About Spinal Cord Injury

The Spine

The spine consists of a chain of bony rings called vertebrae which provide support for our whole body, linking head, shoulders, chest and pelvis. It is strong (to support the body weight), supple (discs between the vertebra absorb shock) and flexible (to allow turning and bending). Because the spinal cord is such an important part of our nervous system, it is surrounded and protected by the spine.

There are 33 vertebrae which are divided into these major sections:CERVICAL (neck) which has 7 vertebrae.

THORACIC (chest) which has 12 vertebrae.

LUMBAR (lower back) which has 5 vertebrae.

SACRAL section which has 5 vertebrae.

TAIL BONE/COCCYX which has 4 vertebrae (fused together).


The Spinal Cord

The spinal cord is about as thick as a finger and some twenty inches long. It is a part of your nervous system, made up of bundles of nerve fibres carrying messages from the brain to all parts of the body. The messages may be for motion or for feeling and sensation, such as heat cold or pain.

These nerve fibres make up the communication systems of the body. The spinal cord can be compared to a telephone cable; it connects the main office (the brain) to many individual offices (parts of the body) by telephone lines (nerve fibres) and is the pathway that messages use to travel between the brain and other parts of the body.

Cervical nerves (nerves in the neck) supply movement and feeling to the arms, neck and upper trunk

Thoracic nerves (nerves in the upper back) supply the trunk and abdomen

Lumbar and sacral nerves (from the lower back) supply the legs, the bladder, bowel and sexual organs.


Tetraplegia and Quadraplegia

If your spinal cord has been damaged in your cervical region (neck), all four limbs are affected.


If your spinal cord has been damaged below the level of T1, both your legs are paralysed but this does not affect the hands and arms.

Spinal cord injuries are classified as either complete or incomplete.

Complete injury is a total loss of power and sensation.

Incomplete injury is a partial loss of power and sensation.

Intact injury has full power and sensation.

Causes of Central Cord Incomplete Syndrome:

As we get older we develop arthritis in our neck with the ligaments, discs and joints of the neck stiffening, and osteophytes (extra bone formations) forming within the spinal canal. Someone with central cord incomplete syndrome can usually control their legs better than their arms. These individuals often recover enough to walk a little but often continue to have major problems with their arm function.


Information provided courtesy of:

Dr Alan McLean
Lead Clinician
Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit

For more details about spinal injuries we recommend you talk to your doctor. There is more information on Spinal Research’s website.