Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Rehabilitation & Recovery Centers

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A spinal cord injury (SCI) can occur at any level of the spinal cord, and the severity of the injury can dictate its impact on your body’s functions. Once the initial injury has healed, effective rehabilitation can help you learn the skills you’ll need to live independently with any remaining disability.

At Sheltering Arms, we offer a wide variety of services to help you live a full, productive life following a spinal cord injury. A physical therapist can help you regain muscle strength and flexibility, while an occupational therapist will work with you on essential activities, such as grooming, bathing, dressing and using the bathroom. A speech-language pathologist will evaluate your abilities to express yourself and understand others. Speech-language pathology can also address swallowing issues.

Medical psychology often plays an essential role in the rehabilitation process following a spinal cord injury and can help with behavior and emotional adjustment. In the hospital setting, physicians, nurses and case managers oversee the rehabilitation process, ensuring medical stability and coordinated care, and making recommendations for next steps following inpatient rehabilitation. Whether you are being referred from Sheltering Arms Institute or another inpatient rehab hospital, we can help you find the Power to Overcome your spinal cord injury!

The Signs & Symptoms

When you have experienced an injury to your spinal cord or spinal canal’s nervous system, there are a number of signs and symptoms that you may be experiencing, which could include:

  • Loss of mobility
  • Elevated pressure, stinging or pain located in your head, neck or back
  • Difficulty breathing or clearing your lungs
  • Reduced or loss of sensory functions
  • Loss of sensation, tingling or numbness in your outer extremeties such as your hands, feet, fingers or toes
  • Balance & gait difficuties
  • Sexual dysfunction or sensitivity
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
  • Muscle spasms
  • Visually altered position of neck or back
  • Distorted or reduced reflexes

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries: Incomplete versus Complete

You can categorize spinal cord injuries into two main groups: a complete SCI or an incomplete SCI.

If someone experiences a complete SCI, this means there was permanent damage done. These types of injuries are commonly associated with paraplegia & quadriplegia.

An incomplete SCI is when a portion of the spinal cord is partially damaged. The amount of disruption between the nervous system and the rest of your body will be dependent on the severity of the injury, leaving a higher chance of recovery than a complete SCI.


Quadriplegia, also referred to as tetraplegia, is caused by damage to the cervical spine, usually leaving a person with total paralysis of his or her legs and arms. This can also include paralysis of the torso as well. The injury can affect not only motor functions, but sensory and reflex functions across the body as well.


Paraplegia is usually caused by damage to the thoracic or lumbar portion of the spinal column. It is associated with paralysis of the lower part of the body including the legs and hips. Again, the severity of the injury will dictate the intensity of the paralysis and whether or not it affects mobility only, or sensory and reflex messaging as well.

It can be a very challenging time for anyone who is recovering from a spinal cord injury. Both incomplete and complete SCIs not only affect someone’s physical state, but may also affect the mental and emotional state of mind as well. At Sheltering Arms, we provide rehabilitation care aimed to improve mobility while helping to maintain a healthy state of mind.

What are the Different Levels of Spinal Cord Injury?

Someone who has undergone an injury to his or her spine near the neck may have completely different symptoms than someone who has damaged their spine near the lower back. The severity of the injury within the affected area will also have a direct effect on the outcomes of the injury. Before diving deeper, it’s important to first understand the different areas or levels of spinal cord injury.

Levels of Spinal Cord Injury

The spinal column is sectioned off into four main areas:

  1. Cervical Spine
  2. Thoracic Spine
  3. Lumbar Spine
  4. Sacral Area

Cervical Spine

This is the area above the shoulders located in the head and neck area. There are eight cervical spinal nerves (C1 – C8). Upper cervical vertebrae damage (C1 – C4) is considered to be the most serious of spinal cord injury. It can affect movement in the upper and lower extremities as well as cause trouble breathing, speaking and swallowing. Those with injury to the lower cervical vertebrae (C5 – C8) may still have the ability to breathe on their own and talk normally. The nerves in this lower area are connected to the arms and hands, but issues can still occur throughout the lower extremities. Quadriplegia, or tetraplegia, is often a symptom of injuries within the cervical spine.

Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine is located in the upper mid-back. This area is composed of 12 thoracic nerves (T1- T12), which control the signals sent to muscles in the chest, abdomen and back as well as many other organ systems. In many cases, paraplegia can occur with injuries in this area.

Lumbar Spine

The lumbar spine is located in the lower back and consists of five lumbar nerves (L1 – L5). The lumbar nerves send signals to the lower abdomen, back, buttocks, genital organs, and areas of the legs. An injury here can sometimes cause paralysis of the legs as well as loss of control with bowel or bladder function.

Sacral Area

The sacral area is also found in the lower back directly below the lumbar spine. There are five sacral nerves (S1 – S5) that directly connect to the coccygeal nerve located in the coccyx bone. The nerves here send signals to areas of the legs, feet, buttocks and genitals. Damage here will typically result in numbness or weakness in these areas, but this can also depend on the severity of your SCI.

With years of experience and specialization treating all types and levels of spinal cord injuries, combined with access to the most advanced physical rehabilitation technology, we are proud to offer one of the best spinal cord injury recovery programs in Virginia and beyond. Whether you or a loved one are receiving inpatient care at Sheltering Arms Institute, or outpatient care at one of many clinics, we can help you find the Power to Overcome!

Make an Appointment with a Rehabilitation Therapist or Ask a Question

If you have any questions about our spinal cord injury rehabilitation programs or would like to schedule an appointment at one of our locations, contact us below or give us a call at 804-764-1000.

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