The C6 and C7 vertebrae are the lowest levels of the cervical spine, near the base of the neck. Injuries to the spinal cord corresponding to these regions of the spine have the potential to impact everything below the top of the ribcage resulting in quadriplegia.
Though they often have better outcomes than higher cervical injuries, they are still considered incredibly severe because more damage is caused to the central nervous system the higher up in the spine the injury occurs. As is the case with any spinal cord injury, the damage is characterized as complete or incomplete depending on the severity.
Injury or pressure on the C6 nerve root, that exits the spinal column between the C6 vertebra and the C7 vertebra, can directly affect the control of the muscles in the forearms and wrists. The symptoms of a C6 spinal cord injury may be experienced on one or both sides of the body, depending upon the extent of the damage. Survivors of injuries at this level may be able to drive a modified car with hand controls.
Patients with spinal cord tissue or nerve damage near the C6 vertebra often experience a false case of carpal tunnel syndrome. The patient will likely have numbness and / or tingling in the fingers, hands, and arms.
The patient may also experience the following:
The portion of the spinal cord corresponding to the C7 vertebra communicates with the tricep muscles. A survivor of a C7 spinal cord injury will likely have full neck movement but may sense tingling and numbness in the hands and fingers, as well as referred pain in the shoulder blade.
Symptoms of spinal cord injuries corresponding to C7 vertebrae include:
The C8 level corresponds to the region in which nerve roots exit the spine between the cervical spine's C7 and the thoracic spine's T1. There is not a corresponding vertebra for C8. This nerve root is responsible for controlling muscles in the fingers and hands and injuries to this area have similar symptoms to those at the C6 and C7 levels. Depending upon the completeness, a C8 injury will lead to paralysis of the legs, trunk, and hands, with patients maintaining shoulder and arm movement.
The most common causes of cervical spinal cord injuries are:
Treatment for spinal cord injuries is aimed at retaining as much function as possible while regaining lost function. Several therapy options may be tried to aid in spinal cord damage recovery.
Spinal cord injuries to the C6, C7, and C8 levels that are treated immediately have the best chance for recovery. Patients will typically know the extent of the long-term damage within six months of the injury. Learning to deal with the limitations of the injury is a very important part of the recovery phase. Keeping a positive attitude will aid the patient in pushing through surgeries and therapies.