When your spinal cord is injured, you get classified:
- Is it a traumatic (car wreck, fall, gunshot, etc) or non-traumatic (tumors, illness, blood clots, etc). They have to know this to proceed with treatment to stabilize and minimize damage.
- What level are you damaged at? This is where they do a lot of testing (MRI’s to see, but also all the pin pricks and vibration and deep pressure and light touch and also strength testing to see where you have some muscle activity or not.)
Our spines are cervical (neck), thoracic (most of your back) and lumbar (lower back). C level,
T level or L level. And there are a number of vertebrae’s in each level. C has 8, T has 12 and L has 3. Then, they give you an Asia scale letter that really helps determine how complete or incomplete your injury is. Complete injuries have zero nerve signal going to any part below your injury, and I completed have some nerve signals still traveling through.
So you might be paralyzed from your neck down and using a sip and puff mouth piece to drive your chair, but if you can get one toe to barely wiggle…you are an incomplete injury because that nerve signal can travel.
I am a C5-C7 Asia C incomplete quadriplegic. I am an Asia C because C5 is a high level injury and if I was complete I would not have much use of my arms. I am much more “complete” from chest down, but because I have such good arm function for my level of damage, I have a lower Asia score.
Why does this classification matter? Well, in the course of my daily life it doesn’t really. But from a medical standpoint, it is a foundational marker for them to know if changes happen (for good or bad) and what to be alert and working on for your personal care.
This is why my increased weakness in my upper body over the last few years has been confusing. It DOES match my original injury levels…although I have gotten weaker…and age and overuse can absolutely make that happen. But…they are just making sure there isn’t something new happening in my spinal cord to cause new problems.
Okay! Now you know! When you hear two wheelies talking shop and saying “oh yeah, I am a C5/C7 incomplete…what are you?”….now you know some of our dialect! 🙂