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T12 Spinal Cord Injury: Functions Affected and Recovery Outlook

understanding t12 spinal cord injury

Wondering what to expect after a T12 spinal cord injury?

To help you understand how a T12 SCI can affect your day-to-day life, this article will go over potential functional outcomes and recovery outlook.

Let’s get started!

Muscles Affected by T12 Spinal Cord Injury

t12 SCI functions

Photo Credit: Ralf Stephan

The thoracic region of your spinal cord is divided into 12 segments that innervate the muscles in your trunk.

T12 spinal cord injury patients should have full control over their upper limbs and the majority of their trunk. The T12 segment innervates the very lower abdominal muscles.

Therefore, individuals with T12 SCIs will focus more on rehabilitation in the lower half of their body.

Your spinal cord relays messages between your brain and body. After a spinal cord injury, these messages may not be able to get past the site of injury.

Therefore, the severity of your spinal cord injury will determine how much motor control or sensation you have at and below your level of injury.

The more spared neural pathways there are at your level of injury, the more functions will be preserved.

Outcomes of T12 Spinal Cord Injury

T12 spinal cord injuries can affect functions from the very bottom of your abdominals down.

Individuals with T12 injuries may experience:

Bladder and Bowel Dysfunction

Inability to control the bowel and bladder muscles or inability to feel when they are full can make you very prone to accidents.

Catheterization, bladder augmentation surgery, and medications can help control and better predict bowel and bladder movements.

Reduced Bone and Muscle Density

t12 spinal cord injury muscle atrophy

Photo Credit

Depending on the severity of your SCI, paralysis may prevent you from moving as much or often as you’d like.

This disuse or lack of use will cause your bones and muscles to shrink and weaken, which can increase your risk of injury.

Difficulties Standing or Walking 

Paralysis (even partial paralysis) can completely alter your ability to balance on two feet. T12 spinal cord injury patients with less severe injuries may be able to recover walking through gait training.

This can involve the use of walking aides like walkers and crutches or special equipment like parallel bars and weight-bearing treadmills.

Pressure Ulcers

pressure sore sci complications

Physical inactivity due to paralysis can cause pressure ulcers.

When you stay in the same position for too long, your body sends signals to the brain communicating that there’s too much pressure being placed on that area of the body. This is what makes us feel restless and antsy.

However, after a spinal cord injury, you may not be able to feel these sensations, which makes it easier to forget to move around every once in a while.

Prolonged pressure on the body can cut off circulation, causing tissues to die and skin to gradually break down.

Pressure ulcers are most common in bony areas like the knees, ankles, hips, and elbows. To prevent them from forming, try to move around every couple hours and inspect your skin regularly.

Spasticity and Pain

Spasticity is when your muscles involuntarily contract.

Many patients experience spasticity after an SCI because messages between their brain and body are not being communicated properly.

Continuous muscle contractions can be painful and interfere with movements.

However, spasticity and pain can be good signs of recovery. They help indicate that neural pathways between your brain, spinal cord, and areas below your level of injury still exist.

The more spared neural pathways you have, the greater your potential for recovery.

T12 Spinal Cord Injury Recovery

t12 spinal cord injury recovery


Rehabilitation after a T12 spinal cord injury primarily consists of physical and occupational therapy.

Both of these rehabilitative therapies will assess your functional abilities and strive towards maximizing your mobility and independence.

In physical therapy, you’ll work on improving your mobility through targeted exercises.

The goal of occupational therapy is to help ease your transition back to everyday life by practicing activities of daily living like brushing your teeth and getting dressed. This will help develop your fine motor skills and teach you techniques to adapt.

Recovery from any level of spinal cord injury focuses on promoting neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is your central nervous system’s ability to adapt by rewiring itself.

The more you repeat a weak movement, the more you stimulate neuroplasticity in spared neural pathways. With enough practice, your brain, spinal cord, and body can learn to work in sync again.

Essentially, you’re reteaching yourself how to move again by promoting neural adaptation.

Understanding T12 Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can be overwhelming, but the key is to focus on what you can do.

Individuals with T12 SCIs can be very independent because they’ll still have completely normal upper body functions.

The less severe your spinal cord injury is, the better your chances of recovery are. With massed practice, spared neural pathways at your injury site can reorganize themselves and help recover functions weakened by SCI.

Incomplete spinal cord injury rehabilitation isn’t easy, but if you’re willing to put in the work, it’s definitely possible to improve your mobility.

Featured image: © Danilovic

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