What is a Spinal Cord Injury 

Any damage to the spinal cord or the nerves at the end of the spinal canal is a spinal cord injury. 

A spinal cord injury of any severity can greatly impact a person’s life. The spinal cord is a complex bundle of nerve fibers that resides within the protected space inside the spinal column. The spinal cord plays a critical role in the body’s ability to function, as every nerve in the body can be traced back to it. Injury to the spinal cord can cause permanent damage to the body and its ability to carry out necessary tasks. There are two kinds of spinal cord injuries: complete and incomplete. When a complete injury occurs, a person loses all ability to move and feel below the level of injury. An incomplete injury leaves a person with some function below the level of injury—though that function may be impaired. 

Spinal Cord Injury Causes 

Injury to the spinal cord can result from direct trauma to the nerves themselves or indirect trauma to the surrounding bones, soft tissue and vessels. Spinal cord injuries can be caused by: 

  • Slips or falls 
  • Motor vehicle accidents 
  • Sports injuries 
  • Diseases such as cancer or arthritis 

Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms 

Spinal cord injury symptoms can differ greatly depending on a variety of factors, including the location and severity of the injury. Some of the more common symptoms that occur due to spinal cord injuries include: 

  • Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation 
  • Loss of movement 
  • Pain or intense stinging sensation 
  • Impaired breathing 
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control 
  • Loss of balance 

Spinal Cord Injury Diagnosis 

Doctors may be able to rule out a spinal cord injury through careful inspection and examination, testing for sensory function and movement and by asking questions about the accident or event that caused the injury. Furthermore, if a patient isn't fully awake, or has obvious signs of weakness or neurological injury, emergency diagnostic tests may be needed such as: 

  • X-rays 
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 

Spinal Cord Injury Treatment 

Currently, there is no way to reverse the damage caused by spinal cord injuries. However, there are a number of treatments aimed at promoting nerve cell regeneration and improving the function of a patient’s remaining nerves. Treatment for a spinal cord injury varies depending on each patient’s specific injury. However, the main kinds of treatment are: 

  • Surgery  
  • Rehabilitation  
  • Medication 
Treatment Team


Following a spinal cord injury, it is important to work with a treatment team that specializes in treating individuals living with a spinal cord injury. Tampa General Hospital offers 2 locations for outpatient neurologic Physical and Occupational Therapy. Each location includes staff with extensive treatment experience with the neurologic population as well as Board-Certified Neurologic Clinical Specialist (NCS).

Wheelchair Seating and Mobility Specialists

Decreased sensation and muscle weakness following a Spinal Cord Injury are also common. These impairments can cause issues with pressure distribution, balance, posture and endurance. Therefore, it is essential to choose the best wheelchair for you. Visit our TGH Wheelchair Seating and Mobility Clinic.

Psych and Neuropsychology

After spinal cord injury, you may experience a number of mental health symptoms including depression, anxiety, or trauma-related symptoms. Working with a rehabilitation psychologist can help you learn ways to manage these stressors and to adjust to your current level of functioning. For more information, call 813-844-3541 and press option 5. Individuals can be seen in-person or through telehealth. View our Tampa General Hospital Psychology and Neuropsychology Services.

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Doctors known as physiatrists specialize in treating patients who have sustained injuries resulting in physical and/or cognitive deficits. Physiatrists have received extensive training on how to examine and treat individuals with spinal cord injuries. Being established with a physiatrist is a key component of your comprehensive treatment team when living with a spinal cord injury. Find a physiatrists. 


A doctor who specializes in the overall health of your urinary system. After an individual sustains a spinal cord injury, there is often a disconnect between the brain, spinal cord, and urinary system. This can lead to incontinence, erectile dysfunction, loss of sensation, or difficulties with arousal. Being established with a urologist is a key component of your comprehensive treatment team when living with a spinal cord injury. Find a urologist. 

Complications of Spinal Cord Injury

Autonomic Dysreflexia

Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) often have a lower resting blood pressure (BP) of 90/60.  Patients with injuries at or above T6 are at risk for a life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention known as Autonomic Dysreflexia (AD). AD is a medical condition that can lead to serious stroke, seizure, organ damage, permanent brain injury, or even death if not treated immediately. This fact sheet will help you better understand AD and prepare you for what to do if you experience an episode:

Bowel and Bladder

Bowel and bladder dysfunction often occurs after one sustains a Spinal Cord Injury. Talking to your doctor about your specific needs regarding your individual bowel and bladder care program is an important part of your health following a SCI. These fact sheets will help provide you information on common methods to manage both your bowel and bladder following your injury:

Skin Breakdown

Skin breakdown often occurs after one sustains a Spinal Cord Injury. These fact sheets will help provide you information on recognizing and treating pressures sores and aeras at high risk of developing pressure sores following your injury


Local Resources

Adaptive Sports are modifications made to the rules or equipment of common sports, or the creation of new sports or activities to allow individuals with mobility impairments to participate. There are many opportunities for participation, including: recreational activities, performing arts, individual sports, or team/competitive sports. Adaptive sports allow those with disabilities to enjoy a higher quality of life by living a socially and physically active life.


FAAST: Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to improve the quality of life for Floridians with disabilities by increasing access to assistive technology. Assistive technology is any piece of equipment that helps an individual with a physical or cognitive disability work, learn, or communicate as independently as possible. FAAST helps with public awareness and training, general information related to assistive technology, device demonstration, short-term device loans, reutilization of devices, and financial loans if applicable. Check out their website above for more information.


The Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Program's purpose is to provide all eligible Florida residents who sustain a traumatic brain or spinal cord injury with the opportunity to obtain the necessary services that will enable them to return to an appropriate level of functioning in their community.


The Spinal Cord Injury YMCA Wellness Program is a unique community program available at the South Tampa and New Tampa YMCA. Enrollment in this program is only available to those who have completed traditional rehabilitation and are looking to transition into the community and continue their exercise program. This program offers individuals living with Spinal Cord Injuries the chance to start or continue their exercise program, improve functional mobility, maintain overall health and wellness, and decrease the chance of secondary complications in conjunction with or following formal rehabilitation. Listed below is the contact information for more information on how to get involved:

South Tampa YMCA, 4411 S Himes Ave, Tampa, FL 33611

Alan Dubois (813) 839-0210 ext. 2238


The best time to schedule an appointment is either late morning or early afternoon.


New Tampa YMCA, 16221 Compton Dr. Tampa, FL 33647

Stefanie Rey (813) 866-9622 ext. 1912



National Resources

Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC) is a national center operated by the American Institutes for Research® (AIR®) that translates health information into simple language and formats for patients with spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and burn injury and their families and caregivers.


The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing innovative research and improving quality of life for individuals and families impacted by spinal cord injuries. Following a spinal cord injury, being able to discuss your recovery journey with someone who has gone through a similar situation can be life changing. The Christopher Reeve Foundation has developed a ‘Peer & Family Support Program’ for individuals living with paralysis, as well as those who care for them, to come together for support.


Founded in 1962, the National Institutes of Health were developed with a goal to lead research and training to understand human development, improve reproductive health, enhance the lives of children and adolescents, and optimize abilities for all. Click the link above for more information.


Spinal Cord Injury M.E.N.T.O.R, which stands for Mindfulness, Exercise, and Nutrition to Optimize Resilience, is an 8-week wellness program designed for people with mobility limitations. It focuses on cultivating an improved sense of mental, physical, and emotional health using 11 wellness domains in order to help people achieve their goals.