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Everything You Need to Know About Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

understanding incomplete spinal cord injury

The best thing about incomplete spinal cord injury is that there is a greater chance of recovery because you still have some ability to feel or control voluntary movement.

You know what that means? Some circuits in your spinal cord survived the injury!

Therefore, a connection between your brain and spinal cord still exists.

Let’s dig deep into the basics of incomplete spinal cord injury so you understand what it is, how it’ll affect your everyday life, and what you can do to treat it.

Paralysis After Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury:

Hand reaching out to touch. Different types of paralysis you might experience with incomplete spinal cord injury will affect how much you can move or feel.

There are two kinds of paralysis you can experience with spinal cord injury: paraplegia and quadriplegia (aka tetraplegia).

This depends on what part of the spinal cord you injure.

The higher up the spinal cord your injury is located, the more damage your body will experience.

Before we explain the difference between paraplegia and tetraplegia, it’s important to have a general idea of the regions that make up your spinal cord:

Chart of spinal cord regions for reference about incomplete SCI


Paraplegia is any paralysis caused by injury to the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral region.

An easy way to remember this is that the prefix, para-, means beyond or past. Therefore, anything past the cervical vertebrae is referred to as paraplegia.

Paraplegia causes paralysis in the lower body (chest, legs, feet).

On top of regaining walking ability, the goal of paraplegics is to restore bladder, bowel, and sexual functions.


In contrast, quadriplegia is paralysis caused by injury to your cervical vertebrae.

It is also commonly called tetraplegia.

Quadriplegia is the more debilitating condition of the two because it affects both your upper and lower body.

Quadriplegiaplegics are going to want to focus on regaining mobility in their hands and arms before they try to recover lower body functions.

Assessing Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury:

incomplete spinal cord injury may require you to use a wheelchair. The ASIA inmpairment scale determines your motor and sensory functions.

The ASIA impairment scale assesses the extent of your spinal cord injury.

Depending on how much motor or sensory function you have, you will fall into 1 of the 5 categories.

If you have incomplete spinal cord injury, you will either be AIS B, C, or D.

Here’s a chart that’ll help you easily understand the differences between the categories:

The ASIA Impairment Scale consists of 5 categories. 3 of them are relevant to incomplete spinal cord injury patients.

4 Types of Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury:

There are 4 main types of incomplete spinal cord injuries.

The impact on your motor and sensory functions depends on what part of the spinal cord you injure.

1. Anterior Cord Syndrome

Diagram of the spinal cord. Anterior cord syndrome is one of the 4 kinds of incomplete SCI.

  • Anterior Cord Syndrome occurs when there’s damage to the front of the spinal cord
  • Also referred to as Anterior Spinal Artery Syndrome because it often arises due to a loss of blood from an artery to the spinal cord
  • Results in loss of motor function below injury; impaired pain, touch, and temperature sensory function

2. Central Cord Syndrome

Visual representation for spinal cord anatomy. One of the 4 types of incomplete SCI is central cord syndrome.

  • Central cord syndrome occurs when there’s damage to the central portion of the spinal cord
  • It is the most common type of incomplete spinal cord injury
  • Usually occurs when your neck overextends
  • Typically, what will happen is that motor function in your upper body will be weaker than the lower.
  • Still able to maintain sensory functions

3. Posterior Cord Syndrome

Spinal cord diagram with area affected by posterior cord syndrome, which is one of the four incomplete spinal cord injuries.

  • Posterior Cord Syndrome occurs when there’s damage to the back of the spinal cord
  • You can think of this as the opposite of anterior cord syndrome.
  • Results in loss of sensory function, but usually preserves motor function

4. Brown Séquard Syndrome

When one half of the spinal cord is injured, you have Brown-Sequard syndrome.

  • Brown-Séquard Syndrome occurs when there’s damage to one side (left or right) of the spinal cord
  • The injured side loses voluntary motor function
  • The opposite side will lose sensations of pain and temperature
  • This type of incomplete spinal cord injury has the best chances of recovering motor function

Can I live a normal life with incomplete spinal cord injury?

Yes, you can live a normal life with incomplete spinal cord injury! You can still hang out with friends and do most of your favorite activities. You just might need to adjust how you do them.

We get it. Spinal cord injury seems like the worst thing ever and now you think you’ll never be able to enjoy life again.

Well, it’s not. In fact, you can probably still do the majority of your favorite activities with spinal cord injury.

You’ll be surprised by how many fun activities for spinal cord injury patients there are.

Many people with incomplete spinal cord injury are able to live very normal lives. It just requires a few adjustments.

We HIGHLY suggest that you commit to exercising. One of the worst outcomes of spinal cord injury is physical inactivity.

The thing is, it’s completely avoidable! 

You don’t have to be out of breath and sweating every day, but it’s ideal to practice range of motion exercises and stretching to avoid spasticity.

Muscle loss, poor balance, and depression are just a few of the negative consequences of physical inactivity.

You want to be in the best health possible to avoid worsening your condition or even developing unnecessary secondary complications.

You get what you give, so be sure to put in the effort to enjoy life during your recovery.

Can you fully recover from incomplete spinal cord injury?

Can you cure incomplete spinal cord injury? Recovery is a long journey. Processes like circuit regeneration and plasticity are needed to promote return of motor-sensory functions.

Think of your central nervous system as a car ride. You’re trying to get from point A to point B, but there’s an accident, so a portion of the road gets closed down. The road beyond the accident is completely fine, there’s just no way for you get to the other side.

This is the problem brain signals face when there’s spinal cord injury. They can’t get through to the other side even though the neural pathways below the injury are completely fine.

So is there a way to reverse the injury? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple because spinal cord injury recovery is a long journey.

But don’t lose hope! There are so many exciting research and technological developments that prove walking again is possible.

It requires extreme dedication, but most patients do recover a couple levels of muscle movement.

Although it has yet to be fully understood, electrical stimulation of the spinal cord seems to be a promising treatment option.

There's a bright, hopeful future for those recovering from spinal cord injury.

Not every day is going to be easy and not every day will show progress, but try your best to be optimistic. Spinal cord injury recovery is a long journey that requires lots of perseverance.

You can still live a perfectly happy life with spinal cord injury. It just takes a couple of minor adjustments and time.

Celebrate your little victories and know that your incomplete spinal cord injury does not define you.

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