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Incomplete Quadriplegia - A Bit Of Sensation, A Bit Of Control

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An incomplete quadriplegia is different from a complete one. Every incomplete tetraplegic or quadriplegic will be different.

Just because the cord damage is the same level as another person it doesn’t mean the resultant disability will be the same.

In fact, most “incompletes” are very different.

What recovery there is will be dependent on three main factors. How badly the cord was damaged, what level it is and the precise area of the cord that was affected.

The potential recovery is normally seen in the first six months post injury although recovery gains have been reported to continue for up to 2-3 years afterwards.

COPYRIGHT_SPINE: Published on https://spinal-injury.net/incomplete-quadriplegia/ by Dr. Bill Butcher on 2022-10-28T01:29:48.740Z

Recoveries and the potential for them will vary enormously.

Bringing Pelvis Up C5 C6 Incomplete Quadriplegic

A Personal Experience

The very incomplete may have virtually no noticeable loss of motor function but impaired sensation or other bodily functions.

The other end of the scale is where there is little or no motor function below the level of injury but sensation to touch or pain, etc. has been preserved.

The potential for recovery will be affected by other factors too; that is, access to good physiotherapy and occupational therapy, and normally this will be on a specialist spinal injuries unit.

General health post injury and the right mental attitude are also important in maximizing any potential return of function.

My own injury is described as C4 incomplete tetraplegia. My cord damage is central cord syndrome.

Very fortunately, I was airlifted from the scene of my accident and within two weeks was on a specialist spinal injuries unit in London.

My legs are much stronger than my arms enabling me to walk slowly with crutches indoors. My left arm has little motor function and my right about 30 percent of normal range of movement.

My shoulder function and ability to extend or raise my right arm has remained very poor, meaning I still require a lot of help with daily living.

My injury was in 1994 and I broke C2,3 + 4, and consider myself very, very fortunate to have had an incomplete injury at that level.

An elderly man in a wheelchair holding a walking stick beside a female companion in jeans; heads not seen
An elderly man in a wheelchair holding a walking stick beside a female companion in jeans; heads not seen

Types of Incomplete Spinal Injuries

An incomplete lesion is the term used to describe partial damage to the spinal cord. With an incomplete lesion, some motor and sensory function remains.

People with an incomplete injury may have feeling, but little or no movement. Others may have movement and little or no feeling.

Incomplete spinal injuries differ from one person to another because the amount of damage to each person’s nerve fibers is different.

The effects of incomplete lesions depend upon the area of the cord (front, back, side, etc.) affected.

The part of the cord damaged depends on the forces involved in the injury.

Anterior Cord Syndrome

It is when the damage is towards the front of the spinal cord, this can leave a person with the loss or impaired ability to sense pain, temperature and touch sensations below their level of injury.

Pressure and joint sensation may be preserved. It is possible for some people with this injury to later recover some movement.

An adult female incomplete quadriplegic with tattoos moving from her electric wheelchair to her bed
An adult female incomplete quadriplegic with tattoos moving from her electric wheelchair to her bed

Central Cord Syndrome

It is when the damage is in the center of the spinal cord.

This typically results in the loss of function in the arms, but some leg movement may be preserved.

There may also be some control over the bowel and bladder preserved.

It is possible for some recovery from this type of injury, usually starting in the legs, gradually progressing upwards.

Posterior Cord Syndrome

It is when the damage is towards the back of the spinal cord.

This type of injury may leave the person with good muscle power, pain and temperature sensation. However, they may experience difficulty in coordinating movement of their limbs.

Two men support a male incomplete quadriplegic standing with an aid of a walker
Two men support a male incomplete quadriplegic standing with an aid of a walker

Brown-Séquard Syndrome

It is when damage is towards one side of the spinal cord.

This results in impaired or loss of movement to the injured side, but pain and temperature sensation may be preserved. The opposite side of injury will have normal movement, but pain and temperature sensation will be impaired or lost.

Cauda Equina Lesion

The Cauda Equina is the mass of nerves which fan out of the spinal cord at between the first and second Lumbar region of the spine.

The spinal cord ends at L1 and L2 at which point a bundle of nerves travel downwards through the Lumbar and Sacral vertebrae.

Injury to these nerves will cause partial or complete loss of movement and sensation. It is possible, if the nerves are not too badly damaged, for them to grow again and for the recovery of function.

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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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