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The C1 vertebra, also known as Atlas, along with the C2 vertebra, also known as Axis, are the first two segments in the cervical spine. These levels are especially important, as they support the head. The Atlas vertebra pivots on the Axis vertebra which allows the head to rotate.

Injuries to the spinal cord at the C1 & C2 vertebral levels are considered to be the most severe of all spinal cord injuries as they can lead to full paralysis but are most often fatal. The injury may be categorized as complete or incomplete depending upon its severity.  

Learn more about the anatomy of the spine in our free eBook, The Simplified Guide to Spinal Cord Injuries.

Symptoms

Patients that survive spinal cord injuries at the C1 and/or C2 levels will likely have the following symptoms:

  • Inability to breathe without assistance from a ventilator
  • Inability or reduced ability to speak
  • Loss of feeling or sensation below the level of injury
  • Paralysis in the arms, hands, trunk, and legs
  • Limited neck and/or head movement

Causes

There are many possible causes which may lead to spinal cord injury. The following are the most common:

  • Trauma, such as sports-related injuries
  • Car accidents
  • Slip and/or fall
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Diseases
  • Tumors
  • Infections

Treatment

Treatment options for injuries to the spinal cord at the C1 and C2 levels will not reverse the damage. Survivors of cervical spinal cord injuries at this level will likely require assistance for the remainder of their life. Treatments are done to aid in symptom relief, prevent further spinal cord damage, and to aid the patient in using the remaining function of their body.  

Current possible treatments include:

  • Surgery to relieve pressure from the spinal cord and fuse the affected segments together to prevent movement (movement could lead to further damage to the spinal cord).
  • Prescription drugs to aid in the recovery of sensory and motor function, as well as to reduce inflammation in the affected area.
  • Physical therapy to strengthen other areas of the body so the patient can learn to use the remaining body function.   

Additional Information

Medical researchers are continuously looking for treatment options for spinal cord injury patients. The use of stem cells has shown promising results in regenerating function lost due to this debilitating injury. Injecting these cells into the injured spinal cord may improve overall function and aid in the recovery of the spinal cord. Although this research is still in its infancy, human patient studies have reported improved walking and sensory perception.

Cervical Spinal Cord Injury Legal Help