Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Guide

Written By Michele Wheat

A spinal cord injury can occur when a trauma happens to the spine that results in a break or a dislocation of vertebrae. Whether the spinal cord is fully severed, damaged, or compressed, nerves can be injured or destroyed. If this happens, signals between the brain and the body will be interrupted, which causes a loss of sensation and function. Some people experience complete and irreversible paralysis, while others recover function to a limited or even full extent.

Terms Used in Spinal Cord Injury

  • Activities of Daily Living: A patient's rehabilitation will include learning how to perform these activities, often abbreviated as ADL, to be as self-sufficient as possible. ADL can include grooming, dressing, and eating.
  • Ambulation: Ambulation involves walking with crutches or braces.
  • Anterior Cord Syndrome: This type of incomplete injury involves proprioception and sensation below the injury level.
  • Aphasia: Some patients experience aphasia, which is a change in language function.
  • Bilateral: A bilateral injury involves both sides of the body.
  • Cellulitis: This inflammation often occurs in the lower limbs due to infection. Patients may experience swelling and redness with cellulitis.
  • Cervical Spine: The cervical spine includes seven vertebrae of the spine in the neck region.
  • Complete Injury: A complete injury describes total paralysis and absence of feeling below a specific level.
  • Contracture: If a joint stiffens to the point where it can't be moved through normal range of motion, contracture has occurred.
  • Edema: When body tissues develop excessive fluid, edema is occurring.
  • Endotracheal Tube: This tube goes into the nose or mouth and works as an artificial airway to connect a patient to a respirator.
  • Flexion: When limbs or the body move into an inwardly bent position, a patient is experiencing flexion.
  • Harrington Rods: These metal rods may be inserted along the spinal column to stabilize and support it.
  • Incomplete Injury: With an incomplete injury, a patient has some degree of function below the level of injury. The function could be movement or feeling.
  • Ischemia: When a blood vessel is blocked, inadequate blood flow occurs to a specific part of the body, called ischemia.
  • Lumbar Spine: The lumbar spine includes five vertebrae of the spine in the lower part of the back.
  • Motor Function: A person controls muscles voluntarily to show motor function.
  • Neuroectomy: This surgery severs nerves to specific muscles to treat severe spasticity.
  • Paraplegia: A patient with paraplegia experiences a loss of function in the lower body below the cervical spine.
  • Paresis: This slight paralysis may result in weakness of voluntary muscles.
  • Plasticity: The nervous system may be able to modify or restore itself back to some level of function by this adaptive mechanism.
  • Pressure Sore: The skin may develop sores at points where ongoing pressure occurs from sitting or lying down. If untreated, pressure sores can lead to infection and tissue death.
  • Reflex: Nerves that are not under the control of the brain can produce an involuntary response, called a reflex.
  • Regeneration: When cells or nerve fibers regrow, regeneration has occurred.
  • Sacral: The sacral area is the vertebrae and spinal cord fusion below the lumbar spine.
  • Spinal Cord: The spinal cord extends from the base of the skull to the bottom of the back.
  • Spinal Shock: After a traumatic injury, the spinal column may shut down, which is known as spinal shock.
  • Quadriplegia: This term has been replaced with the term tetraplegia, and it involves full loss of function of both arms and legs.
  • Vertebrae: The bones in the spinal column are vertebrae.
  • Glossary of Terms Used in Spinal Cord Injury
  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Glossary of Terms You May Hear
  • Tetraplegia vs. Quadriplegia vs. Paraplegia - What the Difference?
  • Spinal Cord Injury 
  • What Is an Acute Spinal Cord Injury?
  • Glossary of Major Terms
  • Study Shows Spinal Cord Injury Causes Immune System Paralysis
  • Trauma-Related Spine Conditions
  • Rehabilitation Phase After Acute Spinal Cord Injury (PDF)
  • Glossary of Terms in Spinal Cord Injury Research (PDF)
  • Anatomy of the Spinal Cord
  • Spinal Cord Injury Glossary
  • Glossary of Brain and Nervous System Terms
  • Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms, Types, and Causes

Spinal Cord Injury Resources