The spinal cord acts as the main information pathway between the brain and the rest of the body. Therefore a spinal cord injury can have significant physiological consequences. The segment of the cord that is injured, and the severity of the injury, will determine which bodily functions are compromised or lost.
Most spinal injuries do not completely sever the spinal cord. Instead, an injury is more likely to cause fractures and compression of the vertebrae.
Spinal injury can take on several forms as follows:
"Complete" Injury which causes an absence of motor or sensory function below the occurrence.
"Incomplete" injury which results in partial sensation or movement below the level of injury.
Soft tissue injuries (eg: for example "whiplash", sports injuries, etc.).
"Complete" spinal cord injuries usually cause permanent disability or loss of movement (paralysis) and sensation below the site of the injury. This often results in quadriplegia which involves the majority of the body including the arms and legs. Spinal cord injuries which affect only the lower body are often referred to as paraplegia.
Catastrophic falls, such as being thrown through a windshield, falling at a construction site, being struck by heavy machinery or other kinds of physical trauma that crush and compress the vertebrae in the neck can cause severe damage at the cervical level of the spinal cord and below.