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Complete vs. Incomplete Spine Injury: What’s the Difference?

By Stefano Sinicropi, MD

The following post is a guest blog from Dr. Stefano Sinicropi.

Spinal cord injuries are grouped into two basic categories: complete and incomplete. Each has its own symptoms, and treatment methods. In this post, we will explain the differences between complete and incomplete spinal cord injuries, and offer some tips for treating each.

Complete vs. Incomplete Injuries

Spinal cord injuries all fall into one of two general categories:

  • Complete Spinal Cord Injuries. In these injuries, the patient has no feeling of movement below the injured level of the spine.
  • Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries. With incomplete injuries, the patient may have varying degrees of sensation in their body below the level of injury.

Medical usage of the terms “complete” and “incomplete” spine injuries is a bit more complex than the above colloquial usage. The American Spinal Injury Association has their own set of standards that outline complete and incomplete injuries. Their classification system is more in-depth and has the following categories:

  • A Complete. No movement, sensation, or sacral sparing (control of the anal area) below the injury level.
  • B Incomplete. Sensation and sacral sparing are present, but movement is absent below injury level.
  • C Incomplete. Sensation, sacral sparing, and movement present below injury (though movement is weak in at least 50% of muscles below injury).
  • D Incomplete. Sensation, sacral sparing, and movement present below injury (with useful strength and movement in at least 50% of muscles below injury).
  • E Incomplete. Sensation, sacral sparing, and (near normal) movement present below injury.

Injuries to the spinal cord are usually quite serious, often resulting in paralyzing conditions such as quadriplegia or paraplegia. Depending on the extent of the injury and the particular nerves involved, you may be able to regain sensation over time. If your spine has been injured in a car crash, sports injury, or other accident, contact a skilled spine doctor immediately to diagnose your condition and provide options for treatment.

About Dr. Stefano Sinicropi

Dr. Stefano Sinicropi is a board-certified spine surgeon practicing in the Twin Cities metro area of Minnesota. Dr. Sinicropi is trained in both orthopedic and neurosurgical techniques. He attended the prestigious Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons Medical School and completed a combined Research/Clinical Residency at Columbia University’s Presbyterian Hospital. He then completed his fellowship at the Kenton D. Leatherman Spinal Fellowship at the University of Louisville. He joined the Midwest Spine Institute in 2006. For more information about Dr. Sinicropi, visit his website, sinicropispine.com.