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What is the Difference Between a Complete or Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury?

Spinal cord injuries are amongst the most devastating type of injury that can occur. However, not all spinal cord injuries are exactly alike. In fact, there are various levels of spinal cord injuries a person can sustain. Here, we want to discuss the difference between a “complete” and an “incomplete” spinal cord injury. There is a difference between these types of spinal cord injuries, particularly when it comes to the levels of paralysis a person may experience as well as how the injury will affect a victim’s day-to-day life. 

Levels of Spinal Cord Injuries

The effects of spinal cord injuries will vary greatly depending on the location and severity of the damage to the spinal cord. Truthfully, no two spinal cord injuries are exactly alike. The outcome of a spinal cord injury for the victim will also vary depending on how quickly medical treatment is received and the effectiveness of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

A complete spinal cord injury

A complete spinal cord injury occurs when a person’s spine is fully compressed or severed. This type of injury will completely eliminate the brain’s ability to send signals below where the injury occurred. A person who experiences a complete spinal cord injury will have no motor function below the site of the injury. 

An incomplete spinal cord injury

An incomplete spinal cord injury is any type of injury to the spine in which a person retains feeling or function below the injury site in one or more areas of their body. Even though a person will retain some feeling or function below the site of the injury, the exact effects of the injury will vary widely from person to person. In some cases, the injury may be mild enough to where there is only mild weakness and no other signs an injury has occurred. However, some incomplete spinal cord injuries are so severe that a person will have symptoms similar to a complete spinal cord injury.

The Costs of a Complete or Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

When we examine data available from the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC), we can see that there are significant costs associated with spinal cord injuries. The first year of medical care for a spinal cord injury can range anywhere from $379,000 to more than $1.1 million, depending on the level of injury. Those who retain some level of motor function will typically see fewer first-year medical costs than those who sustain complete spinal cord injuries along their C1 – C4 vertebrae.

However, when we discuss the true costs of a complete or incomplete spinal cord injury, we have to look beyond the first-year medical costs. Each additional year of medical care will range anywhere from $46,000 to more than $200,000. Additionally, those who sustain complete spinal cord injuries will have to adjust to a completely new day-to-day situation. They will typically need around-the-clock care for the remainder of their lives. Additionally, the life expectancy of a person who sustains a complete spinal cord injury is going to be much lower than those who sustain an incomplete spinal cord injury.

Taking into account the variety of symptoms associated with incomplete spinal cord injuries, it may be entirely possible for a person with an incomplete spinal cord injury to live a relatively normal life, at least compared to someone who has sustained a complete spinal cord injury. However, whether one has suffered a complete or incomplete spinal cord injury, it is always advised to speak with an Orange County spinal cord lawyer.