Spinal Cord Injuries

The diagram of the spinal cord and vertebrae locates the point of injury (or break) and then describes the disabilities and abilities associated with that level of injury. There are two types of spinal injuries: complete and incomplete. People with complete spinal injuries do not have movement or sensation below their injury. People with incomplete spinal injuries, however, often retain some movement or sensation below their break. C6 relates to Cervical 6 of the neck and refers to the section of the human spine comprised of seven bony segments, typically referred to as C1 to C8. The neck supports the weight of the head and protects the nerves that carry sensory and motor information from the brain down to the rest of the body. Review the remaining thoracic, lumbar and sacral areas of the spine and note the difference between a quadriplegic and a paraplegic.

  1. Requires support to sit
    • Cannot grip
    • Quadriplegic – C6 and above
  2. Quadriplegic – C7 and above
    • Can lift arms above head against resistance
    • May be able to grip
    • Requires support to sit
  3. Quadriplegic – C8-T1
    • Can lift arms above head against resistance
    • Can grip firmly
    • Needs support to sit
  4. Paraplegic – T1-T5
    • Can sit freely, inclusive balance is poor
    • Full use of arms
  5. Paraplegic – T5-T10
    • Can sit freely and inclusive keep balance, but will lose balance if pushed
  6. Paraplegic – L1-L3
    • Can sit freely inclusive with reasonable balance
    • Lacking full use of trunk muscles
  7. Paraplegic L3-S2
    • Can sit freely, has good balance
    • Full use of trunk muscles


Most spinal cord injuries occur from either motor vehicle accidents (37%) or violence (28%). Falls such as diving accidents (21%) or sports injuries (7%) are the other two leading causes of spinal cord injuries. Most injuries occur to men between the ages of 16 and 30. The average age for a spinal cord injured person is 31. Interestingly, 82% of people who sustain spinal cord injuries are male. No one knows why this is, but some researchers suspect that men engage in more high-risk behaviours and are therefore more likely to be injured. Because there are so few female quadriplegics (and even fewer female quadriplegics who are interested in playing such a high-contact sport), wheelchair rugby is a co-ed sport.