Spinal Injury Glossary

Spinal Injury Glossary

Spinal Injury Glossary

Autonomic Dysreflexia

This is a condition that can occur in people with a spinal cord injury at T6 and above.  It is a massive rise in blood pressure as a result of some problem below the level of injury, that if untreated can cause a stroke or even death. 

Baclofen

Baclofen is an anti-spasmodic drug frequently used to help people with spinal cord injury who suffer from spasms.  It can be administered in pill form (orally) or by injection to the base of the spine (intrathecal) or by means of a pump which is inserted at the base of the spine to give doses at regular intervals.

Catheter

A catheter is a tube with a hole at each end which can be used for draining the bladder.  Many people with spinal cord injury use catheters intermittently for this purpose.  Others have a Supra pubic Catheter, which is a catheter that is inserted into the bladder through the stomach wall.

Cauda Equina Injury

A Cauda Equina injury is an injury to the bottom of the spinal cord: the lumbar vertebrae and or the sacral vertebrae.  This causes loss of sensation and control over the bladder, bowels and sexual function.  It can also cause loss of power and sensation to the lower limbs.  Also it results in loss of reflexes which makes it harder to manage loss of bladder and bowel control.

Cervical Vertebrae

The cervical vertebrae are the vertebrae in your neck.  There are seven of them.  If you damage your spinal cord at this level then you will be paralysed to some degree in your arms as well as your body and legs.  The higher the break the more muscles will be affected.  If your injury is above C4 then your breathing may also be affected. 

Complete

If you have a complete lesion it means that you have lost the use of all your muscles and you have lost all sensation below the level of your injury.

Incomplete

If you have an incomplete spinal cord injury it means that you still have some control over the muscles below the level of your injury and/or you have some sensation below the level of injury.  Incomplete lesions can take any form, however there are 4 distinct syndromes:

Anterior Cord Syndrome

This is where you lose muscle power while retaining sensation below the level of injury. 

Posterior Cord Syndrome

This is where you lose sensation but retain muscle power below the level of injury.  However although you will still have control over your muscles the loss of sensation, and in particular the feeling of knowing where your limbs are in space, means that some people with this injury still find it difficult to walk.

Brown-Sequard Syndrome

This is where you lose muscle power on one side of the body, but retain sensation, whereas on the other side of your body you lose sensation but retain muscle power. 

Central cord Syndrome

This type of injury is most common in neck injuries.  You lose power and sensation in your arms and hands, while retaining it in your legs. 

Lesion

This means the level at which power and sensation are lost.  It is not always the level at which the injury occurred. 

Lumbar Vertebrae

There are 5 lumbar vertebrae below your thoracic vertebrae.  If your injury is at this level you will lose the power in your legs, bladder and bowels. 

Paraplegia

This is the word used to describe someone who has an injury to their back causing partial or complete paralysis below the level of injury.  They will still have power and sensation in their hands and arms, but they will lose some or all power and sensation in their body, legs, bladder, bowels and sexual function.

Sacral Vertebrae

The Sacral vertebrae are below your lumbar vertebrae, leading down to the coccyx.  An injury at this level will probably mean you can walk but your have a reduction is sensation in your feet and you will lose control over your bladder and bowels.

Spasm

Many people with spinal cord injury suffer from spasms, which are involuntary movements of the paralysed muscles.  Some people find they can use their spasms to assist them, for example when transferring.  However some people find their spasm are so bad that they need anti-spasmodic medication to relieve them. 

Spinal Stenosis

This is a medical condition which can occur due to excessive bone growth around a damaged vertebrae.  The additional growth causes a reduction in the size of the spinal canal, which then puts pressure on the spinal cord. 

Tetraplegia

This is the word used to describe someone who has an injury at the cervical level and therefore has a loss or reduction in power and sensation in their hands, arms, body, legs, bladder, bowels and sexual function. 

Thoracic Vertebrae

The thoracic vertebrae run down your back as far as your waist.  There are 12 of them.  If you injure your spinal cord at this level you will be paralysed below the chest or the waist depending on the level of your break.  You will have full use of your arms and hands.