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What Is the Difference Between a Complete and Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury?

Victims of a spinal cord injury are encouraged to seek legal representation in order to acquire fair compensation to cover for damages. Our qualified spinal cord injury attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers have over 60 years of collective legal experience in handling personal injury cases. With our track record of recovering more than $1 billion in settlements for our clients, we are confident that we will deliver a good outcome to your case.

To schedule a free consultation, please contact our 24/7 legal team by calling 213-927-3700 or filling out our contact form.

Below, we will discuss the difference between a complete and incomplete spinal cord injury and what form of treatment is available for both types of injuries. 

Complete vs Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

A complete spinal cord injury is classified as no longer having sensation or motor control below your injury. This may result in a diagnosis of paraplegia or tetraplegia. Paraplegia is triggered when damage is done to the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral section of the spinal cord. Tetraplegia emerges when damage is done to the cervical section of the spinal cord. Symptoms for complete spinal cord injury include:

  • Complete loss of motion below the injury.
  • Losing sensation below the injury.
  • Struggling to control the bladder or bowel movements. 
  • Difficulty breathing, if the injury is located around the cervical area.

An incomplete spinal cord injury is defined as when an individual has some feeling below the level of their injury. Their spinal cord is still capable of sending messages between the brain and the body. This injury could be classified as partial paralysis. Symptoms for incomplete spinal cord injury include:

  • Retaining some sensation every now and then below the injury. 
  • Capability of moving muscles below the injury. The extent of muscle movement varies depending on how severe the injury was. 
  • Chronic pain below the injury.


There are several factors that may cause a spinal cord injury. This includes:

  • Motor vehicle accidents. This is the most common cause of spinal cord injury. Since vehicles are large and heavy, they could have intense contact with a driver’s spine.
  • Sport injuries. There are many sports-related activities that require individuals to tackle each other down. Football and hockey are commonly known for having players experience spinal cord injury due to the level of physical contact that is implemented in both sports. 
  • Diseases. Certain types of diseases have the effect of making bones weaker, thus making individuals have a higher chance of experiencing spinal cord injury. Diseases include, but are not limited to, osteoporosis, osteopenia, or arthritis.
  • Physical violence. Violent acts, such as gunshots or knife wounds, could result in the individual becoming injured. This will most likely happen if the bullet or knife goes through the spinal canal and fractures the pedicles and facets.

It is not possible to determine which of these causes will result in a complete or incomplete spinal cord injury. It all depends on how intense the contact to the spine was to determine which of the two will occur.

Treatment and Recovery

An individual suffering from an incomplete spinal cord injury generally has a faster recovery compared to complete spinal cord injury. Since incomplete spinal cord injury still makes it possible for the individual to have some type of function over their body, they will have an easier time regaining strength and relearning basic movements. 

However, there are many factors that come into play for an individual to recover from a spinal cord injury. These include:

  • The area of the injury. If the injury is located in the higher section, where the cervical area is, then it is highly unlikely for the individual to make a full recovery.
  • The individual’s health status. If the individual has a health condition, other than a spinal cord injury, it could affect the recovery process. Infections could tamper with the injured area by increasing the swelling.
  • Dedication to physical therapy. If the individual goes to physical therapy sessions to heal their injury, then they will start to notice effective results.
  • Medical care. Receiving medical care from physicians and nurses will help the patient with their recovery process.

Overall, each individual has a different experience when it comes to overcoming their spinal cord injury. Some may start to notice results quickly while others may not be able to recover due to intense damage done to their spine. It is important to check in with a medical expert to learn about accessible treatment plans that are suited for their condition. 

West Coast Trial Lawyers Is Here to Help 

If you are a victim of spinal cord injury due to another individual’s negligence, West Coast Trial Lawyers has certified spinal cord injury attorneys with over 60 years of collective legal experience in handling personal injury cases. We will help you recover economic and non-economic damages. This includes medical expenses, emotional distress, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. 

No fees will be charged until your case has been settled. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation with the attorneys at our firm. Reach out to our 24/7 legal team by calling 213-927-3700  or filling out our contact form.

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