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Incomplete versus complete spinal injuries: What you should know

When you find out that you've suffered a spinal cord injury, one of the first questions you may have is if you're going to be paralyzed. Not every spinal injury results in paralysis, even though it is possible for some individuals.

There are two primary categories of spinal injuries including complete and incomplete. With complete injuries, the spinal cord is severed. With incomplete, the cord is intact, at least minimally.

Complete spinal injuries: The impact on victims

With complete injuries, the spinal cord is badly damaged to the point of a complete disconnect. At that point, no information traveling from the brain can reach below the point of injury. No information from below the point of injury can return to the brain. This is what results in paralysis and a loss of feeling.

With a complete injury, any body part below the point of injury will have no sensation. Typically, these body parts do not have feeling of any kind or the ability to be moved. The functionality of organs may also be impacted, leading to trouble with bowel control or other unwanted side effects.

Incomplete injuries: How victims are affected

With incomplete injuries, there are a few things that can happen. First, the injury could be so minor that there is a minimal loss of strength, sensation or movement. More significant injuries could result in weakness but retain feeling. Others may result in numbness but retain some strength and movement. Each incomplete injury has the potential to cause chronic pain, since the nerves are damaged and not functioning as they should be.

Are there treatments for patients with spinal cord injuries?

Yes, there are treatments, but the treatments that help vary. Minor spinal injuries may benefit from physical therapy, rest and medications to reduce inflammation. For more serious injuries, surgical intervention and the use of electrical stimulation or other treatments might be an option.

Every patient is different, so if you develop a spinal cord injury, it's going to be in your best interests to get an idea about what your medical provider thinks will or will not work for you. You have a right to multiple opinions. Keep in mind that any settlement you're awarded for your injuries should be enough to cover your medical care now and in the future, when new treatments may become available. You always want to keep your options open.

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