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Complete Versus Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries - What's The Difference?


Complete spinal cord injuries result in a wholly severed spinal cord and the loss of all function below the damaged site. Complete versus incomplete spinal cord injuries both are different as opposed to full SCIs, incomplete SCIs happens when the spinal cord is crushed.

Hurt but the brain's capacity to transmit signals below the damage site is still there. The most diverse kind of spinal cord injury, incomplete SCIs, makes up more than 65% of all spinal cord-related injuries.

It is often difficult to distinguish between full and incomplete spinal cord damage. Swelling may make it difficult to do daily tasks, especially in the early days after an accident.

As the swelling subsides, an injury that appeared to be complete spinal cord damage may turn out to be incomplete.


COPYRIGHT_SPINE: Published on https://spinal-injury.net/complete-versus-incomplete-spinal-cord-injuries/ by Dr. Bill Butcher on 2022-10-05T00:34:52.817Z

Complete Versus Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries diagram
Complete Versus Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries diagram

Both full and partial spinal cord injuries may result in a person losing their ability to move their muscles and feel their surroundings. When a person loses all sensory and motor functions below the level of spinal cord damage, they have suffered a total spinal cord injury.

An incomplete spinal cord injury is one in which the victim still has some function below the level of the damage. The ASIA Impairment Scale, developed by the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA), was created to grade the severity of spinal cord injuries.

The scheme is as follows and employs the letters A through E.

Asia A

Total paralysis of the motor or sensory systems due to spinal cord damage.

Asia B

A lack of motor function combined with a lack of sensory function.

Asia C

Some movement and motor function, but less than half of the muscle units are fully able to lift against gravity.

Asia D

With more than half of the muscle groups able to lift against gravity, there is incomplete motor function.

Asia E


Symptoms Of Complete SCIS

The capacity of the brain to transmit impulses down the spinal cord below the lesion site is completely lost in a spinal cord injury. So, a complete injury to the lumbar spinal cord could cause paralysis below the waist while keeping the arms and upper torso mobile.

The symptoms of a full and partial spinal cord injury are very similar in the days immediately after your injury. But with time, minute variations could start to show. These qualities consist of:

  • Loss of feeling below the injury's location.
  • Motion is completely lost below the injury.
  • Control issues with your bowels and bladder.
  • You may have trouble breathing on your own if the damage is severe enough to your spinal cord.

Symptoms Of Incomplete SCIS

The functions of the spinal cord are only partly affected in cases of incomplete spinal cord injuries. Therefore, the outcomes of incomplete spinal cord damage are more complex. Someone who has had an infection-related partial spinal cord damage might nonetheless function very well. However, people who survive a gunshot wound with incomplete high-spine damage could have difficulties like those experienced by those who survive a full spinal cord injury.

An incomplete spinal cord injury has certain characteristics, such as:

  • Maintaining some feeling below the injury's location. Your ability to feel may come and go and be much weaker than it used to be.
  • The ability to move certain muscles underneath the damage. You may have good control over some muscles but not so much over others. Your range of motion may also be different.
  • Below-the-injury pain Chronic pain is a problem for many people who have survived partial spinal cord injuries.

How To Tell The Difference?

Those who have spinal cord injuries need to see a doctor right away. Doctors will examine patients in the emergency department for movement or feelings at or below the injury level. A physician may use an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI to diagnose a spinal cord injury.

An incomplete injury's swelling may show signs of a full injury. The doctor can tell the difference between the two kinds of injuries after the swelling subsides, which usually takes 7 to 10 days. Trusted Source

The next step is for a neurologist to do a thorough neurological evaluation. During this step, they usually.

  • Inquire about the person's symptoms and any medical issues.
  • Search for outward indications of a medical issue.
  • Examine yourself physically.
  • Then, a doctor can use different tests to figure out how well a person's nerves work in terms of movement and feeling.

Spinal Cord Injury Complete Or Incomplete - Everything You Need To Know - Dr. Nabil Ebraheim

Complete Versus Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries - Key Points

Even though the functional results and prognoses for full and partial spinal cord injuries are different, there are ways to deal with the problems of any type of SCI and make your life a lot better.

Neuroplasticity is important for recovery after a partial spinal cord injury because it allows spared neuronal pathways to change in more useful ways. Complete spinal cord injuries have a limited chance of recovery.

But people may learn to use their unaffected body parts to make up for their damaged ones and maintain as much function as they can. This article should have clarified the difference between a full spinal cord injury and an incomplete spinal cord injury.

People Also Ask

What Does It Mean If A Spinal Cord Injury Is Incomplete?

There is still some capacity for the spinal cord to transmit signals to or from the brain.

What Are The Three Types Of Spinal Cord Injuries?

There are three different kinds of total spinal cord damage. Triple paralysis, triplegia, and tetraplegia.

How Do You Know If SCI Is Complete Or Incomplete?

Loss of muscle tone and feeling on both sides of the body is a symptom of total spinal cord injury.


Complete versus incomplete spinal cord injuries damage to the spinal cord may result in both full and partial spinal cord injuries. The main difference is how much feeling and movement the person still has after being hurt.

At the wounded location and below, a complete spinal cord injury results in a complete loss of muscle action and feeling. Even after incomplete spinal cord damage, a person may still function to some extent.

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About The Authors

Dr. Bill Butcher

Dr. Bill Butcher - With more than two decades of experience, Dr. Bill Butcher aims to provide a repository for educational materials, sources of information, details of forthcoming events, and original articles related to the medical field and about health subjects that matter to you. His goal is to help make your life better, to help you find your way when faced with healthcare decisions, and to help you feel better about your health and that of your family.Bill received his medical degree at Boston University School of Medicine and spent his entire career helping people find the health and medical information, support, and services they need. His mission is to help millions of people feel fantastic by restoring them to optimal health.

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