What is the Difference Between Complete and Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries?

Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Mark Choate with Choate Law Firm LLC.

What is the Difference Between Complete and Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries?
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Complete spinal cord injuries (SCIs) occur when damage to the spinal cord results in a total loss of muscle function and sensation below the level of the injury. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, almost 50% of all SCIs are complete. However, incomplete SCIs are slightly more common and although they may result in the loss of certain muscle functions or sensation, do not result in a total loss of function and sensation below the level of the injury. Regardless of whether an SCI is complete or incomplete, the resulting damages to a person’s life and livelihood can be severe; this is why it’s important to learn about all of the options for recovery when an SCI victim’s injuries were the result of another party’s negligence.

The American Spinal Injury Association established a scale to categorize the severity of SCIs from A through E, including:

  • A: Complete SCI with no sensation and total loss of motor function
  • B: Incomplete sensory function with complete loss of motor function
  • C: Incomplete motor function with some movement, but fewer than half of the muscle groups can lift against gravity
  • D: Incomplete motor function with more than half of the muscle groups able to lift against gravity
  • E: Normal

Some injuries may at first seem more severe until the injury has been treated and allowed time to heal; in some cases when inflammation lessens sensation and function may return to some degree.

Complete SCIs typically require significant life changes.

A complete SCI is typically a permanent injury resulting in permanent loss of sensation and function in the area of the body below the injury. Total loss of motor function and sensation can be extremely debilitating and may introduce the need for significant changes to the patient’s daily life, including mobility aids, in-home care, and more.

These and the other support systems a complete SCI victim may need to return to a reasonable quality of life can be expensive, especially on top of the medical bills typically associated with an SCI and continuing physical/emotional therapy. Additionally, if the complete SCI prevents the injured party from working, impairment of earning capacity may also need to be considered.

Incomplete SCIs may also require life changes and/or accommodations.

Even incomplete SCIs may require significant accommodations for the SCI victim to return to a reasonable quality of life and engage with daily activities from interacting with loved ones to returning to work or finding a new job. Depending largely on the area of the body affected and the degree to which mobility and sensation are affected, the above lifestyle changes may be necessary in addition to or instead of more common accommodations.

Whenever an injury affects the way a person lives their life, works a job, and/or engages with loved ones, those changes need to be accounted for and if caused by another party’s negligence, compensated justly. This can happen by filing a personal injury claim against the party responsible, seeking compensation for predicted current and future expenses arising from a complete or incomplete SCI.

To learn more about complete or incomplete SCIs, or for help investigating your claim, reach out to an experienced SCI attorney in your area.

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