Spinal Cord Injury: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 3/9/2021

Spinal cord injury is any type of damage or injury to the spinal cord, the collection of nerves that begin at the brain and travel down the back encased in the vertebrae. In complete spinal cord injury, there is no function below the level of injury. With incomplete injury, there is some function remaining below the level of injury.

Signs and symptoms of spinal cord injury depend heavily upon the extent of the injury (incomplete vs. complete) and the location of the injury within the spinal cord. An injury to the upper portion of the spinal cord in the neck can cause quadriplegia (paralysis of both arms and both legs). Other associated signs and symptoms can include

  • muscle weakness,
  • loss of voluntary muscle movement in the chest, arms, or legs,
  • breathing problems,
  • loss of feeling in the chest, arms, or legs, and
  • loss of bowel and bladder function.

Causes of spinal cord injury

Trauma is the most common cause of spinal cord injury. The condition can also occur due to loss of blood flow to the spinal cord.

Other spinal cord injury symptoms and signs

  • Breathing Problems
  • Loss of Bowel and Bladder Function
  • Loss of Feeling in the Chest, Arms, or Legs
  • Loss of Voluntary Muscle Movement in the Chest, Arms, or Legs
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Paralysis of Legs and/or Arms


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Jameson, J. Larry, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 20th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.