A spinal cord injury is damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function. This might cause loss of movement, bladder or bowel function and/or sensation.

Although paralysis can be caused by some infections, such as polio, and by some inherited or congenital neurological diseases, such as spina bifida, paralysis due to spinal cord injury is often caused by accidents.

The impact of spinal cord injury

The potential impact on the body depends on where the spinal cord injury causes damage:

  • If spinal cord injury occurs in the neck area, nerve transmission is blocked very high up. This can cause respiratory failure and quadriplegia. This means that all 4 limbs, the arms and the legs, are paralysed.
  • If the spinal cord injury is in the thoracic, lumbar or lower back region then this may cause loss of the use of the legs but leave the arms unaffected. This condition is known as paraplegia.
  • Both quadriplegia and paraplegia can also cause loss of bladder and/or bowel control. The sensation that allows sexual arousal and intercourse are often lost after spinal cord injury.
  • The degree of compression is also important. Sometimes, a spinal cord injury can result in loss of movement, but not in a complete loss of sensation.