Injury or disease to the nervous system can affect the ability to move a part of the body. This reduced motor ability is called paralysis.
Quadriplegia and paraplegia are most often caused by spinal cord injuries. But, they can also be caused by diseases, such as:
Most spinal cord injuries are caused by accidents, such as car crashes, falls, and sports injuries.
Whether it is paraplegia or quadriplegia depends on the location along the spine where the injury occurs:
Factors that may increase your chance of quadriplegia and paraplegia include:
Paralysis due to spinal cord injuries may be total or partial. This depends on how much of the spinal cord is damaged. In addition to paralysis of the arms and/or legs, you may also suffer from:
Inactivity due to paraplegia and quadriplegia can cause additional problems, like:
People with paraplegia and quadriplegia may also become depressed because of:
Diagnosis involves finding out where and how badly the brain and spinal cord are damaged. To do this, doctors will likely do the following tests:
Imaging tests evaluate the spine and other structures. These may include:
Your nerve function may be tested with:
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with a lumbar puncture if some specific neurologic diseases are suspected.
Immediate treatment of spinal cord injuries includes bracing the bony spine to keep it from moving and further injuring the spinal cord. Steroids and other medications may be used to lessen damage to nerves and nearby tissue.
Recovery and rehabilitation usually begins in the acute care hospital setting. Depending on the cause and extent of the condition, this involves:
During this time, patients are fitted for mobility aids, including wheelchairs. For most people, the majority of recovery happens within the first year.
The following measures are advised to reduce your chance of getting a spinal cord injury:
Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
Muscular Dystrophy Association
Canadian Paraplegic Association (Manitoba)
Binard JE. Care and treatment of spinal cord injury patients. J Am Paraplegia Soc. 1992;15(4):235-249.
Lukas RV, Chmura S, et al. Management of central nervous system metastases from renal cancer. Emerging Cancer Therapeutics. 2011;2(1):157-168.
Shakur S, Takagi I, et al. Ocular melanoma metastasis to the cervical spine: a case report. J Clin Neurosci. 2012;19(4):610-611.
Spinal cord injury—acute management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114275/Spinal-cord-injury-acute-management. Updated August 22, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2016.
Spinal cord injury—chronic management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T566521/Spinal-cord-injury-chronic-management. Updated December 18, 2015. Accessed September 29, 2016.
Last reviewed November 2015 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.