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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.

C3 Vertebrae

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 C3 Level Spinal Cord Injury

Symptoms of a spinal cord injury corresponding to C3 vertebrae include:

  • Limited range of motion
  • Loss of diaphragm function
  • Requirement of a ventilator for breathing
  • Paralysis in arms, hands, torso, and legs
  • Trouble controlling bladder and bowel function

C4 Vertebrae

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 C4 Level Spinal Cord Injury

Symptoms of a spinal cord injury corresponding to C4 vertebrae include:

  • Loss of diaphragm function
  • Potential requirement of a ventilator for breathing
  • Limited range of motion
  • Paralysis in arms, hands, torso, and legs
  • Trouble controlling bladder and bowel function

C5 Vertebrae

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 C5 Level Spinal Cord Injury

Symptoms of a spinal cord injury corresponding to C5 vertebrae include:

  • Ability to speak and breathe on their own, but breathing will be weak
  • Paralysis in torso, legs, wrists, and hands
  • Paralysis may be experienced on one or both sides
  • Patients may be able to raise their arms and/or bend their elbows
  • Patients will need assistance with daily living, but may have some independent function

Causes of Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries

The most common causes of cervical spinal cord injuries are:

  • Tumors
  • Trauma
  • Birth defects
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Infections or diseases
  • Slip and fall

Injury Treatment

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:

  • Fusing the spine and decompressing the nerves around the spinal cord are beneficial in recovery from a spinal cord injury.
  • The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs may help the patient regain some sensory and or motor function.
  • Physical therapy is an important part of recovery to retain use of non-affected areas of the body as well as those directly affected by the damage done to the spinal cord.

Additional Information

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.  

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What Sets Swope, Rodante P.A. Apart

For more than 35 years, Swope, Rodante has worked with an emotional investment to improving the lives of thoses who have been impacted by spinal cord injuries. Leaders in the profession, the firm’s attorneys provide guidance and protection for its clients and have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars from some of the largest cases in the country. The firm’s accomplishments are driven by its clients’ successful outcomes and ensuring those who have been seriously injured receive the justice they deserve.

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