Wondering what happens after a C7 spinal cord injury?
A C7 spinal cord injury will result in quadriplegia, which is paralysis in the arms, trunk, and legs.
However, because the C7 segment is further down the cervical region of the spinal cord, a good majority of your arm functions will work normally.
This article will go over what muscles and areas of skin are directly affected by C7 spinal cord injury and what you should expect regarding daily living and recovery.
Direct Outcomes of C7 Spinal Cord Injury
Each pair of nerve roots innervates a different part of the body.
The C7 dermatome (area of skin that the nerve root supplies) is tested with a pinprick at the middle finger.
The C7 myotome (muscles that the nerve root connects to) allows you to straighten your elbows and bend your wrists. The general muscles affected include the triceps, wrist flexors, and finger extensors.
What Can I Do After C7 Spinal Cord Injury?
Motor control and feeling above the level of injury will not be affected.
Therefore, people with C7 spinal cord injuries should be able to:
- Feel at their heads, necks, clavicles, shoulders, outer areas of their arms, and their thumb, index, and middle fingers
- Fully move their heads, necks, and shoulders
- Move their elbows and wrists, but with some weakness
- Straighten out their fingers (but likely won’t be able to bend them)
- Breathe, speak, and chew without assistance
Because C7 spinal cord injury patients will have most of their arm functions and be working on strengthening the range of motion in their elbows, wrists, and fingers, they will generally be able to perform tasks of daily living independently or with very limited help.
Higher-level cervical spinal cord injuries will often require 24/7 caregiver assistance, but C7 spinal cord injury patients will only need partial assistance.
Using Adaptive Tools
Adaptive devices can be utilized to help make up for limited finger function.
For example, you can attach items like utensils, toothbrushes, and pens to universal cuffs so that you can eat, brush your teeth, and draw on your own.
A reacher can also be very helpful to grab and move objects you can’t reach.
With a C7 spinal cord injury, you should be able to start operating a manual wheelchair.
While a power wheelchair may be easier to use and get around with, it won’t help strengthen your arm muscles.
Generally, people with lower-body paralysis are forced to heavily depend on their arms to compensate for limited leg function.
Difficulties You Might Experience After C7 Spinal Cord Injury
Depending on the severity of your spinal cord injury, you may or may not have motor control or feeling below your level of injury.
With a complete C7 spinal cord injury, you will not be able to move or feel anything in your trunk or lower body.
This will affect:
- Bladder and bowel movements. Inability to control these reflexes and muscle contractions can make you very prone to accidents. Using a catheter and medications will help better predict and control bowel and bladder movements.
- Bone and muscle mass. Paralysis will prevent you from moving and using your muscles and bones as much as you’d like. This will cause them to shrink and weaken.
- Autonomic nervous system functions. Your autonomic nervous system is responsible for the regulation of involuntary body functions like temperature regulation, heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion.
Spasticity is when the muscles continuously stay contracted. It can result in spasms and prevent movement.
While pain and spasticity aren’t ideal, they are in fact, good signs of recovery.
They indicate that there are active connections between your brain, spinal cord, and muscles.
Make Sure That You’re Moving Throughout the Day
Many people with spinal cord injuries are guilty of physical inactivity.
We get it. Paralysis will prevent you from moving as much as you’d like, BUT there are some major consequences of not moving.
First, your metabolism, heart rate, and circulation will all slow down, which can cause all your major organ systems to start dysfunctioning from insufficient blood supply.
Having someone help you perform range of motion exercises will stimulate your muscles, improve circulation, and prevent your joints from stiffening.
Second, you’ll likely get pressure sores. When you stay in one position for too long, there’s too much pressure on the skin. This will restrict blood flow and allow for bone to break through the skin.
Pressure sores typically develop in bony areas like the elbows, tailbone, ankles, and knees, so be sure to shift positions every once in a while and inspect your skin regularly.
C7 Spinal Cord Injury Recovery
Recovery after a C7 spinal cord injury will typically consist of physical and occupational therapy.
Both therapies will assess your physical abilities and work towards improving your motor skills.
In physical therapy, you’ll work on improving your gross motor skills (think big movements) through exercise.
In occupational therapy, you’ll work more on developing your fine motor skills (small muscle functions) through activities of daily living like brushing your teeth and getting dressed.
Both the brain and spinal cord have neuroplasticity, which is the ability to adapt.
Repetitive movement stimulates neuroplasticity. The more you perform a weak function, the more you’re activating that neural circuitry and the more familiar your brain gets with the movement.
You’re essentially reteaching yourself how to move again by strengthening neural circuitries that survived the injury.
C7 Spinal Cord Injury
That’s a wrap!
A C7 spinal cord injury can be overwhelming but the key is to stay positive and focus on what you CAN do.
Because you’ll have the majority of your upper body functions, you’ll have some independence and won’t have to constantly rely on a caregiver.
Recovery time will vary depending on the severity of each injury.
Hopefully, this article helped you better understand what to expect after a C7 spinal cord injury. Good luck!