Common terms in spinal cord injury

Like all medical conditions, spinal cord injury has its own precise language and terms. We’ve tried hard to limit the jargon we use on this website but if want more information about anything you read, please speak to our outreach team.

Here are some of the most common phrases you will read or hear and what they mean:

SCI: Spinal cord injury is often abbreviated to SCI.

Paralysis: The loss of the ability to move (and sometimes to feel anything) in part or most of the body. This can be caused by an accident or a medical condition.

Complete injury: No movement or feeling below the site of the spinal injury.

Incomplete injury: Some feeling or movement below the site of the injury.

Tetraplegia/quadriplegia: All four limbs are paralysed as are most of the internal organs.

Paraplegia: Complete or incomplete paralysis affecting the legs and sometimes the internal organs but not the arms.

Traumatic/non-traumatic: All spinal cord injuries are traumatic. However, you may hear both these medical terms being used to differentiate between accidents and illnesses as the cause of the spinal cord injury.

Rehabilitation/rehab: In the UK people with a spinal cord injury are usually able to have specialist rehabilitation at one of eleven NHS spinal cord injury centres. This rehabilitation may last days, weeks or months and involves helping someone learn to take care of their body; make the most of their independence; to cope and adjust to their disability and return to a healthy, active lifestyle.

Autonomic Dysreflexia (Hyperreflexia): This can occur in anyone who has a spinal cord injury at or above the T6 level. It is related to disconnections between the body below the injury and the control mechanisms for blood pressure and heart function. It causes the blood pressure to rise to potentially dangerous levels.

Intermittent Catheterization (ICP): Using a catheter for emptying the bladder on a regular schedule.

UTI: Urinary tract infection.

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