Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) can be
classified based on function (how much feeling and movement you have) or where
the damage occurred. When a nerve in the spinal cord is injured, the nerve
location and number are often used to describe how much damage there is. For
example, a C7 injury is associated with the seventh cervical nerve of the neck
and its effect on feeling and movement. Saying you are a C7 means that you can
feed yourself and partially dress yourself but may need help bathing, and so
on. C7 is known as the functional level of injury. These classifications are
often used by people with SCIs to describe themselves.
on the spinal cord the damage occurs, the more of the body is affected. This is
because the nerves in the area of a vertebra
control body parts in that area. When the spinal cord is damaged, messages
cannot "jump over" the damaged area, meaning that messages sent from the brain
cannot make it to body parts below the damaged area, and vice versa. Thus, the
body at and below the level of injury is affected.
list shows some projected functional outcomes 1 year after the injury. The list
does not show everything a person with a spinal cord injury can and cannot do.
For more information, talk to your doctor or spinal cord injury therapist.
In C1 through T1 injuries, you generally need
help with bowel and bladder care.
In C1 to C4 injuries, you can do
little on your own. Others must help you with feeding, grooming, dressing,
bathing, and mobility, as well as bowel and bladder care. You may need help to
breathe, such as from a ventilator.
In C5 injuries, you can use a
wheelchair and feed yourself with adaptive equipment. As in C1 to C4 injuries,
you need help with most other functions.
In C6 injuries, you can
dress your upper body and feed yourself. With equipment, you can groom and
In C7 injuries, you can perform most daily
functions on your own or with assistance. This includes feeding, dressing
grooming, mobility, and bathing.
In C8 to T1 injuries, you can do
more of the above without any assistance.
In T2 through S5
injuries, grooming, feeding, dressing, bathing, and bowel and bladder care are
independent. At these levels, standing and walking with assistive devices are
Primary Medical Reviewer
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Nancy Greenwald, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.