Spinal cord injuries happen when trauma damages the nerves connecting your brain to your body. The most devastating injuries happen when these nerves get severed in the neck. This injury will result in partial or total paralysis below the neck.

Unfortunately, a severed nerve will not heal. And since doctors cannot reconnect them, these nerve injuries will cause permanent disabilities. As a result, someone with a spinal cord injury faces a lifetime of medical treatment and therapy. Depending on the severity of the injury, the patient may never work again and may even need a caretaker’s assistance.

What Is the Function of Your Nervous System?

What Is the Function of Your Nervous System?

Every part of your body falls under the control of your nervous system. Your brain uses your sense organs to gather information about your environment. It uses the nervous system to control everything in your body, from your heart to your sweat glands, in response to the senses. For example, your brain will move your head to duck when you see something flying toward it.

After your brain generates a signal for your body, it travels down your spinal cord. The spinal cord includes 31 pairs of nerves and runs through the spinal canal. The spinal canal is a pathway formed by openings in the individual vertebrae.

A pair of nerves exits the spinal cord and branches into nerve roots at each vertebra in your spine. The pair includes one nerve for your right side and one for your left. The level where the pair exits will determine what it controls. For example, a pair exiting in your lower back will control your thigh muscles.

The cervical spine in your neck includes seven vertebrae. These vertebrae, denoted C1 through C7, have eight nerve roots since nerve roots branch above and below each cervical vertebra. The eight nerve roots control the muscles in your shoulders, chest, and upper limbs.

How Does Quadriplegia Happen?

The nerve cells, called neurons, transmit signals using a combination of electrical charges and chemical neurotransmitters. The neurons must remain in close contact to function correctly. When a nerve gets severed, the neurons cannot communicate. Sensory signals traveling to the brain and control signals traveling to the body get disrupted.

Unlike some forms of nerve damage, a severed nerve does not cause misfiring. Without any connection, the signals get lost. As a result, you will have total paralysis and loss of sensation in the areas connected to the severed nerve.

Quadriplegia happens when the spinal cord gets severed in the neck. This injury can happen in a few ways, including the following:

Penetrating Injury

A foreign object can penetrate the spinal canal and sever the spinal cord. For example, if a doctor commits a surgical error while operating on your spine, the scalpel can sever the spinal cord.

Fractured Neck

When you fracture the vertebrae in your neck, the broken bones can dislocate. If they slide into the spinal canal, they can sever the spinal nerves. This explains why EMTs will brace your neck after a car or truck accident. If the crash fractures a cervical vertebrae, a brace relieves pressure that can dislocate the bone fragments.

Types of Quadriplegia

Doctors classify quadriplegia using two criteria:

Level of the Injury

The level identifies where the injury occurred. Higher spinal nerves control more critical muscles. As a result, a higher injury will usually have a more critical effect. 

In fact, an injury between the C1 vertebra and skull will almost always cause death. The spinal nerves that control the chest muscles sit at this level. An injury will paralyze your chest and leave you unable to breathe.

Completeness of the Injury

“Completeness” refers to the number of spinal nerves severed. If some, but not all, of the spinal nerves get severed, you have an incomplete injury. If all the spinal nerves get severed, you have a complete injury.

For example, suppose that you suffered a spinal cord injury above the C4 vertebra. At that level, you have 28 spinal nerves. An incomplete injury severs fewer than 28 spinal nerves. A complete injury severs all of them.

What Are the Symptoms of Quadriplegia?

Quadriplegia, also called tetraplegia, affects all four limbs. However, the severity of the injury’s effects will depend on the completeness and level. A complete injury will cause total paralysis and loss of sensation below the level of the injury.

After an incomplete injury, you will have partial paralysis below the injury. You will suffer from:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of fine motor control
  • Uncontrolled muscle stiffness and muscle spasms
  • Limp muscles

More importantly, you have the possibility of recovering some of your functions. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to reconfigure its connections. This means the brain can use the intact spinal nerves to control some areas connected to severed nerves.

The factor with the greatest influence over your symptoms is the injury level.

C1 and C2

Injuries at the C1 and C2 levels often cause death. With your chest muscles paralyzed, you cannot breathe. Within a few minutes, you suffer permanent brain damage, and death occurs a few minutes later.

If you receive immediate breathing support, you might survive the injury. But you will likely need a ventilator for the rest of your life to help you breathe.


An injury at the C3 level is more survivable than one at the C1 or C2 level. This injury will probably paralyze your chest muscles, but you may retain enough control over them to regain your ability to breathe independently with physical therapy. You will still have paralysis and a loss of sensation in all four limbs.

C4 Through C8

Injuries at the C4 through C8 levels will probably not affect your chest muscles. And as the level of the injury falls, the amount of control you retain will increase. At the C4 level, you may have some control over your shoulders. You will have more control over your arms, wrists, hands, and fingers as the level of the injury drops.

Can You Get Financial Compensation For Quadriplegia?

You can get financial compensation for a spinal cord injury that results from someone else’s intentional or negligent actions. If a loved one dies from such an injury, the family members can seek compensation for wrongful death.

To prove liability for an intentional injury, you must show a person or business intended the action that harmed you. Proving negligence requires showing that the other person’s failure to exercise reasonable care injured you.

Quadriplegia is one of the most catastrophic injuries you can survive. Contact or call (770) 390-7550 Malone Law Medical Malpractice and Severe Injury Lawyers for a free consultation to discuss the quadriplegia injury you or a loved one suffered and the compensation you can seek.