The C3, C4, and C5 vertebrae form the midsection of the cervical spine, near the base of the neck. Injuries to the nerves and tissue relating to the cervical region are the most severe of all spinal cord injuries because the higher up in the spine an injury occurs, the more damage that is caused to the central nervous system. Depending on the how severe the damage to the spinal cord is, the injury may be noted as complete or incomplete.
The C2 - C3 junction of the spinal column is important, as this is where flexion and extension occur (flexion is the movement of the chin toward the chest and extension is the backward movement of the head). Patients with spinal cord damage at the C3 level will have limited mobility in both their flexion and extension.
Symptoms of a spinal cord injury corresponding to C3 vertebrae include:
The portion of the spinal cord which relates to the C4 vertebra directly affects the diaphragm. Patients with C4 spinal cord injuries typically need 24 hour-a-day support to breathe and maintain oxygen levels.
Symptoms of a spinal cord injury corresponding to C4 vertebrae include:
Damage to the spinal cord at the C5 vertebra affects the vocal cords, biceps, and deltoid muscles in the upper arms. Unlike some of the higher cervical injuries, a patient with a C5 spinal cord injury will likely be able to breath and speak on their own.
Symptoms of a spinal cord injury corresponding to C5 vertebrae include:
The most common causes of cervical spinal cord injuries are:
Unfortunately, there is no treatment which will completely reverse the damage from injuries to the spinal cord at the C3 - C5 levels. Medical care is focused on preventing further damage to the spinal cord and utilization of remaining function.
Current treatments available for patients are:
It is an unfortunate truth that there are not many options to date to completely recover from a cervical spinal cord injury. Medical researchers are continuously looking into new drug therapies to help regain sensory and motor function. The use of stem cells is seen more and more in research as these cells are specialized enough to possibly regenerate damaged spinal cord tissues. Lab study results show greater sensory and motor function in those patients treated with stem cells for spinal cord damage.
For Kristen and Jeff Sachs, the day that changed both of their lives started as a low-key beach event with three other families. Jeff dove into the ocean, pausing briefly to give his wife an affectionate thumbs-up. It was the last time he would ever be able to dive.
On his way down, he hit his head on a sand bar, injuring his C4 vertebra. These sorts of injuries are notoriously challenging, and Jeff was instantly paralyzed.
Kristen Sachs Spinal Cord Injury Survivor[fa icon="quote-right"]
June 17, 2000, started out like any other normal Saturday. It was the beginning of summer break, between her junior and senior years of high school, and Dana was meeting her mom to get pictures taken for their theme park season passes.
Dana was waiting at a red light behind five other cars when she took a quick glance into her rearview mirror. She had no way of knowing that what she saw was about to change the rest of her life.
Dana Guest Founder of Push Nation Fest[fa icon="quote-right"]
Spinal cord injuries are traumatic for patients and their families. They cause disruptive changes to every aspect of your life and there is a lot of new information to navigate and understand. Our experts have collected everything in one place to help you learn more about your injury, locate doctors and treatment centers, find financial support, and get assistance navigating your next move.