C3, C4, & C5 Spinal Injuries

C3, C4, and C5 spinal cord injuries can be life-threatening and permanently alter ones lifestyle.

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What Causes Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries? 

The most common causes of cervical vertebrae injury and spinal cord damage include a spinal fracture from diving accidents and sports, as well as medical complications. Other common causes include:

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

C3, C4, and C5 Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms


Symptoms of a C3 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

Symptoms of a C4 Spinal Cord Injury

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:

  • 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

Symptoms of a C5 Spinal Cord Injury

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 breathe and speak on their own. Symptoms of a spinal cord injury corresponding to C5 vertebrae include:

  • Retaining the ability to speak and breathe without assistance, though respiration may be weak
  • Paralysis in the torso, legs, wrists, and hands
  • Paralysis may be experienced on one or both sides of the body
  • 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

Treatments for C3-C5 Spinal Cord Injuries

Unfortunately, there is no treatment which will completely reverse the spinal cord damage from a cervical vertebrae injury 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 cervical 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.

A spinal fracture may be remedied with surgery, but the abnormal movement of vertebrae or pieces of bone can cause a more severe spinal cord injury. 


C3, C4, & C5 Spinal Cord Injury Recovery

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.   


  • Cervical Spinal Cord Injury, Shepherd Center. Learn more
  • Levine, Julie, All about the C6-C7 Spinal Motion Segment, Spine-Health. Learn more
  • Epidural Stimulation Brings New Hope to C6-C7 Spinal Cord Injury Patient Jonathan from Ireland, Epidural Stimulation Now. Lean more
  • Acute Spinal Cord Injury, Johns Hopkins Medicine. Learn more