Put simply, an incomplete spinal cord injury occurs whenever an injury survivor retains some feeling below the site of the injury. People who sustain an incomplete injury typically make better and more rapid progress on the recovery journey.
A spinal cord injury can be incomplete in one of two ways. If the injury is not severe enough to sever the spinal cord, or to severely interfere with function, the injury may be classified as incomplete. For instance, a woman who sustains a strong blow to her back that lessens sensations below her waist, but does not completely eliminate them, has sustained an incomplete spinal cord injury.
In a medical climate where spinal cord injuries are increasingly well understood and injury survivors are better equipped to take prompt action, most incomplete spinal cord injuries are actually a product of the immediate aftermath of the injury—not the injury itself. When a medical team takes immediate steps to reduce swelling, the odds of avoiding a complete injury increase. Likewise, when first responders avoid sudden or aggressive movements that could further injure the spinal cord, an incomplete injury becomes more likely.
Knowing that a spinal cord injury is “incomplete” isn't in and of itself enough to know the severity of the injury. Incomplete injuries manifest in myriad ways. Some of the most common include: