Complete vs. Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries

To clarify how much sensory and motor function is lost, after a patient experiences a spinal cord injury, physicians classify spinal cord injuries as either complete or incomplete.

Simply put, a complete spinal cord injury refers to any injury that results in the complete loss of function and sensation below the point of damage, while people with incomplete injuries are still able to experience minor feeling and movement below the point of injury.

The American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) has created an impairment scale in order to classify the degree of spinal cord injuries. According to ASIA the injury is complete if a patient shows no sacral sparing. This means that the patient has no voluntary anal contraction, sensation in the anus or sensation in the lowest two levels of the sacrum area.

The ASIA Impairment Scale breaks spinal cord injury comprehensiveness down into five categories:
A = Complete. No motor or sensory function in the lowest sacral segment.
B = Incomplete. Sensory function below neurologic level; no motor function below neurologic level.
C = Incomplete. Motor function is preserved below neurologic level and more than half of the key muscle groups below neurologic level have a muscle grade less than 3.
D = Incomplete. Motor function is preserved below neurologic level and at least half of the key muscle groups below neurologic level have a muscle grade 3.
E = Normal sensory and motor function.

Because extensive research has proven that complete spinal cord injuries can be prevented by immediately reducing the swelling of the spinal cord following an injury, physicians have recently been more successful in helping patients avoid complete spinal cord injuries. Incomplete spinal cord injuries are now more common than complete spinal cord injuries.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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