Spinal Injury

Spinal injury often has devastating effects for the motorcyclist involved. When the spine is involved in a motorcycle injury, the prognosis is often grim. The spine plays a crucial role in communication with the brain and control of motor function in the body. Motorcycle spinal injury can lead to permanent paralysis such as quadriplegia or paraplegia.

Spinal Injury Types

When the spinal injury occurs, it is typically classified as either complete or incomplete. These classifications refer to whether or not the brain has lost the ability to communicate messages via the spinal cord. A complete spinal injury creates a complete lack of motor and sensory function below the site of injury. In an incomplete spinal injury, the patient may not experience a complete loss of communication.

Motorcycle Spinal Injury Effects

Motorcycle spinal injury can often cause damage to the fibers and pathways that communicate with the brain. As a result, motorcycle spinal injury patients may experience a wide range of medical conditions. Conditions such as osteoporosis, bowel movement issues, and sexual dysfunction may occur.

The spine has four major areas. Starting from the base of the neck, these sections are: the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral regions. The location of a motorcycle spinal injury often dictates the effects of the injury.

Cervical Spinal Injury

The cervical region of the spine contains eight vertebrae. These are labeled C1 through C8, which indicates cervical vertebrae one through eight. This region begins at the base of the skull. In severe cases, cervical motorcycle spine injury can lead to quadriplegia, which is also known as tetraplegia. Quadriplegia is complete paralysis from the neck down.

Cervical motorcycle spinal injury may also cause:

  • Respiratory problems
  • Loss of the sensation of touch
  • Dysfunction of the bladder, bowels, and sexual organs

Thoracic Spinal Injury

This region begins at the ninth vertebra, immediately after the cervical region ends. The thoracic region contains 12 vertebrae, labeled T1 through T12. Thoracic motorcycle spinal injury is less common, as this section of the spine receives extra protection from the rib cage. Injury to the thoracic spine can cause paraplegia, or paralysis of the legs. Loss of the sensation of touch and dysfunction of the bowels, bladder, and sexual organs may also occur.

Lumbar Spinal Injury

The lumbar region is below the thoracic region. It contains vertebrae L1 through L5. Injury to the lumbar region of the spine often results in paraplegia. Paraplegia causes paralysis or weakness in the legs. Lumbar motorcycle injury may also cause loss of touch and dysfunction of the sexual organs, bowels, and bladder. Injuries to this area often require surgery.

Sacral Spinal Injury

The sacral region is the last section of the spine. This region contains vertebrae S1 through S5. The main effects of sacral motorcycle spinal injury include loss of bladder and bowel function. Sexual dysfunction may also occur. Patients may experience paralysis or weakness in the hips and legs.

Helmet & Spine Injury Myth

Recent research de-bunks the myth that a motorcycle helmet can be detrimental to the spine during a crash. The myth suggested that a helmet adds additional mass to a motorcyclist’s head. This was believed to cause significant torque on the neck during a motorcycle accident. The myth stated that as a result, the motorcyclist can suffer significant spinal injury on impact.


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Bomela L.N., and N.S. Motsitsi. “Complex upper cervical spine injury associated with vertebral artery injury and sensory deficit: a case report.” The Internet Journal of Orthopedic Surgery 21 May 2010. Academic OneFile. Web. 31 Aug. 2013.

“Motorcycle Helmets Reduce Spine Injuries after Collisions; Helmet Weight as Risk to Neck Called a ‘Myth’.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. The Johns Hopkins University, 8 Feb 2011. Web. 31 Aug 2013. <http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/motorcycle_helmets_reduce_ spine_injuries_after_collisions_helmet_weight_as_risk_to_neck_called_a_myth>.

“NINDS Spinal Cord Injury Information Page.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. National Institutes of Health, 1 Jul 2013. Web. 31 Aug 2013. <http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/sci/sci.htm>.