In the city of Atlanta, spinal cord injury is classified by levels. These levels are common and used by medical professionals throughout the country. The levels are as follows:
C1 – C4 – High-Cervical Nerves
This is the most severe of all levels. When C1 through C4 (highest point of the spine) are injured, paralysis in the arms, trunk, legs and hands occurs. A patient may not be able to breathe on their own or control their bladder or bowels. The ability for a patient to speak can be impaired. The patient will require total assistance with daily living.
C5 – C8 – Low-Cervical Nerves
When C5 is injured, the person can bend their elbows and raise their arms. There is likely to be at least partial paralysis of the legs, wrists, hands or trunk. Breathing is weakened, but the patient can speak. The patient will need assistance with most activities, but the patient will be able to use a wheelchair to assist with mobility.
When C6 is injured, there is paralysis in the legs, trunk and hands. The patient can speak, and they can move into and out of a wheelchair with help. The patient may be able to operate an adapted vehicle. An injury to C7 will affect the way a patient can move their wrists and hands, but does not involve complete paralysis. An injury to C8 typically results in some limited movements, and a loss of bladder and bowel control.
When T1 through T5 are injured, affected areas are typically limited to the trunk and legs. Patients can use a manual wheelchair and may be able to walk with braces. When T6 through T12 are injured, patients are typically diagnosed as paraplegic.
L1 – L5 – Lumbar Nerves
There may be a loss of function in the hips and legs. The patient cannot control their own bladder or bowels, and they may need a wheelchair or braces for mobility.
S1 – S5 – Sacral Nerves
There is little voluntary control of the bladder or bowels, and there may be some loss of function in the legs and hips. The patient will typically be able to walk on their own without the use of braces or crutches.