Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can be sudden, unexpected and can impact a person’s life significantly. Statistics show that one person per day has a spinal cord injury, most of them being traumatic (transport related) and a 1/3 occur due to falls. Males account for 80% of all spinal cord injuries and a higher prevalence is seen between the ages 15-24 years old. The spine is made up of multiple segments cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. Spinal cord injuries can occur at any level of the spine and the complications that occur due to injuries are quite complex.

Spinal cord injuries can be classified as complete or incomplete, meaning there can be partial preservation of sensory and or motor function below the neurological level affected or there can be a complete absence of sensory and motor function. Impairments due to spinal cord injuries are very broad depending on the site and level of injury (lesion) within the spine. For example, a complete injury (lesion) at the first lumbar vertebrae can result in paraplegia which results in complete loss of leg function, meaning that this client could experience loss of bladder and bowel control, sexual dysfunction and likely to be wheel-chair bound but still have upper body sensation and movement.

When assessing patients with spinal cord injuries we look into Dermatones and Myotomes using the ASIA scale which helps to determine the extent of the spinal cord injury using grading from A-E. Dermatomes are areas of skin that is supplied by a single spinal sensory nerve root, each of these nerves send sensation and pain from a particular area of skin straight to the brain.  Myotomes relate to groups of muscles that a single spinal nerve innervates, which tells us what muscles and movements are impaired.



Exercise Physiologists can complete these assessments and design our exercise programmes specifically tailored to help patients improve quality of life, independence and mental health based on their client’s individual goals of rehabilitation and their impairments.


Dominique Mitchell

(B.Sc. Exercise, Sports, & Rehab Science; Grad Dip. Exercise Rehabilitation)


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Spinal cord injury, Australia 2014-15 [internet]. 2018; AIHW cat. No. INJCAT 193. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/injury/spinal-cord-injury-australia-2014-15/contents/summary

Kirshblum, S., Burns, S., Biering-Sorensen, F., Donovan, W., Graves, D., & Jha, A. et al. (2011). International standards for neurological classification of spinal cord injury (Revised 2011). The Journal Of Spinal Cord Medicine, 34(6), 535-546. doi: 10.1179/204577211×13207446293695

Winter, B., & Pattani, H. (2011). Spinal cord injury. Anaesthesia & Intensive Care Medicine, 12(9), 403-405. doi: 10.1016/j.mpaic.2011.06.008