Spinal Cord Injury | Symptoms


What are the symptoms of a spinal cord injury?

The symptoms of a spinal cord injury depend on where the damage occurred and whether the injury is complete or incomplete. If there is an entire loss of muscle control and sensation (feeling), then the injury is called complete. If there is some muscle control and sensation, the injury is called incomplete. Injuries that occur higher up the spinal cord usually result in more severe symptoms.

What You Should Know in an Emergency

Following a traumatic accident, immediate signs of a spinal cord injury can include pain, weakness, numbness, paralysis, confusion, dizziness and difficulty breathing. If you think that someone has an injury to the head, neck or back, here’s what you should do:

  • Call 911.
  • Don’t move the person who is injured.
  • Roll up blankets or towels and place them on either side of the person’s head, or hold the person’s head between your hands. Try to keep the person’s head and neck still.
  • Perform any first aid that is needed, such as CPR or applying pressure to a wound, but be sure to hold the person’s head and neck still.

Paralysis is one of the most common symptoms of a spinal cord injury. Paralysis is a loss of ability to move a part of the body. When this happens, there may also be no feeling or limited feeling in the paralyzed area. If the vertebra in the neck area are damaged, the arms, chest and legs can be paralyzed, as well as the muscles that control breathing. Damage to the vertebra in the chest or lower back areas can result in paralysis of the chest and legs.

Other symptoms of spinal cord injury include:

  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Numbness
  • Spasticity
  • Pain


See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Created: 08/10