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.