When Many people think of paralysis, they think of a state in which the limbs experience a complete loss of movement or feeling. But chances are, you’ve heard your doctor refer to paralysis as either “complete” or “incomplete.” What is the difference between these two classifications, and what do they mean for the survivor?
Spinal cord injuries are categorised as two types of injury:
A. A complete spinal cord injury.
B. An incomplete spinal cord injury.
Complete spinal cord injury usually involves the loss of sensation and motor ability caused by bruising, loss of blood to the spinal cord, or pressure on the spinal cord (cut and severed spinal cords are rare). Doctors use the term “complete” to describe a large amount of damage to the spinal cord. Complete spinal cord injuries generally result in total loss of sensation and movement below the site of the injury. Many people with partial spinal cord injuries are able to experience significant recovery, while those with complete injuries are not.
An incomplete spinal cord injury means that there is some function or sensation below the primary level of the injury. A person with an incomplete injury may be able to move one limb more than another, may be able to feel parts of the body that cannot be moved, or may have more functioning on one side of the body than the other.
Incomplete spinal cord injuries are more common than complete injuries, it is important to immediately reduce swelling of the spinal cord following a the injury. The steps the survivor’s medical team immediately takes to reduce swelling quite often prevent further damage from occurring, allowing an injury to avoid the “complete” category. Incomplete injuries can vary greatly. They can result in some feeling but little or no movement, some movement but little or no feeling, and everything in between. The extent and severity of an incomplete injury can usually be safely determined about six to eight weeks following the injury, once spinal shock has subsided and the swelling has gone down
In order to help classify differing degrees of spinal cord injury, a scale is used to help compare and understand residual function.
No motor or sensory function in the lowest sacral segment (S4-S5)
Sensory function below neurologic level and in S4-S5, no motor function below neurologic level
Motor function is preserved below neurologic level and more than half of the key muscle groups below neurologic level have a muscle grade less than 3.
Motor function is preserved below neurologic level and at least half of the key muscle groups below neurologic level have a muscle grade 3.
Sensory and motor function is normal