spinal cord injury

Spinal cord injuries (SCI) can cause permanent changes in your body’s strength, sensations, and functions, including loss of movement, spasms, or intense pain. Your abilities after a spinal cord injury depend on the level and extent of injury, and your activity level prior to sustaining an SCI can often affect your level of mobility after injury.

Learn more about the types of spinal cord injuries, and the rehabilitation strategies and technologies that can help improve your mobility and quality of life following an injury.

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Level of Spinal Cord Injury

Injury level can be classified into two categories based on which vertebrae are affected. The two classification levels are:

  • C1 to C7 and T1 (also known as tetraplegia or quadriplegia)

Tetraplegia affects your cervical or neck area, and arm and leg functions.

  • T2 or lower (also known as paraplegia)

An injury of this level affects the connection between your brain and legs.

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injury also can be considered complete or incomplete. If your SCI is incomplete, you may still have some function below the site of injury.

Although those with an incomplete spinal cord injury may be more likely to regain movements associated with walking, people with both incomplete and complete injuries benefit from rehabilitation, such as physical and occupational therapies, assistive technology, and robotics and gaming technology.

Assistive Technology

At the Center for Assistive Technology, a joint program of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, services are based on your goals and needs to enhance mobility, communication, and comfort.

Our team is made up of physiatrists (rehabilitation physicians), occupational and physical therapists, rehabilitation engineers, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and assistive and rehabilitation technology suppliers.

Our services include:

  • Adaptive driving training
  • Personal mobility seating and positioning
  • Audiology services
  • Environmental control units
  • Voice recognition programs
  • Workplace modifications

Robotics and Gaming

Robotics and gaming have become valuable in the rehabilitation of many injuries, including spinal cord injury. At the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute’s Robotics and Gaming Center, there are many technologies available, such as:

  • GameCycle® – a hand-operated exercise bike invented at the University of Pittsburgh to increase flexibility, strength, and balance. The cycle shows a character on the monitor that moves as you do, in the same direction and at the same speed, while providing cardiovascular exercise.
  • Lokomat® – a treadmill with robotic sensors and robotic leg supports for those who cannot walk on their own. The treadmill helps you build muscles in your legs and also triggers the parts of the brain that control leg movement.
  • Nintendo Wii® – a video game system that can be used to promote balance, core stability, endurance, flexibility, or hand-eye coordination. Exercises can be tailored to each patient based on his or her rehabilitation needs.
  • Armeo® – a device that compensates for some of the weight of your arm, which allows you to use remaining strength to move your arm while playing computer games or completing simulated everyday tasks. This therapeutic exercise can help your brain remember how to control arm function.

To learn more about these technologies for the rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries or find out if any may be right for you, visit the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute website and make an appointment with an expert.

About Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

At UPMC, we strive to improve your function after injury or illness. We help people recover from functional, pain-related, and neurological conditions, with both inpatient and outpatient care available. We are dedicated to providing you with exceptional clinical care and focused on developing new technologies and treatments to help you achieve mobility and maintain independence. Find a provider near you.