The Spinal Cord | What is Quadriplegia? | What is Paraplegia? | What Causes Quadriplegia and Paraplegia? | What are the Symptoms? | Treatment Options | What is the Prognosis? | Have You Been Injured? |

When the spinal cord is injured in a serious accident, it can result in damage (jar, compress, or sever, depending on the injury) to the cord and/or nerves extending out to other parts of the body. Spinal cord injuries often result in paralysis, which is the total or partial, permanent or temporary, loss of sensation and motor control in parts of the body. When the spinal cord is severed or nerve pathways are extensively destroyed, paralysis is often permanent. With spinal cord injuries where the cord and/or nerves are jarred or compressed, but not severed, a patient may suffer only temporary paralysis.

Due to the structure of the spinal cord, a spinal cord injury at a particular point can result in loss of feeling and/or function below the site of that injury. Quadriplegia and paraplegia are two types of spinal cord injuries that differ by the degree of paralysis and the location of the spinal cord injury site.

The Spinal Cord

The spinal cord is divided into four divisions, which are, from the base of the skull to pelvis, the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral areas. Generally, the higher the injury site is on the spinal cord, the more extensive the paralysis and the more severe the spinal cord injury. For example, if the spinal cord injury site is at the uppermost cervical vertebrate (called C1), the effect is often paralysis of the four limbs, trunk, and the muscles used for breathing. Because of the latter effect, a spinal cord injury at C1 is often fatal. A spinal cord injury to a lower area of the spinal cord, e.g. in the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral regions, may result in paralysis to the lower half of the body, with partial or no paralysis affecting the trunk and upper limbs.

What is quadriplegia?

Quadriplegia, also referred to as tetraplegia, is a type of spinal cord injury in which paralysis affects the lower and upper limbs and part or all of the trunk. Quadriplegia is the result of a spinal cord injury affecting the spinal cord and/or nerves of the cervical area (corresponding to the upper back and neck areas). Quadriplegia is the most serious type of spinal cord injury, which can be life-threatening depending on the extent of the paralysis to the trunk and the muscles controlling vital functions, such as breathing and blood pressure.

What is paraplegia?

Paraplegia is a type of spinal cord injury in which paralysis affects the spinal cord at the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral regions (corresponding to the mid and lower areas of the back) resulting in complete or incomplete loss of feeling and/or function to the lower limbs and part of the trunk.

What causes quadriplegia and paraplegia?

A motor vehicle accident, sports injury, or some other traumatic accident can result in quadriplegia or paraplegia. These types of spinal cord injuries can also occur in patients with certain diseases or tumors.

What are the symptoms of quadriplegia and paraplegia?

Symptoms of quadriplegia and paraplegia depend on the exact site and severity of the spinal cord injury. Common symptoms of paraplegia and quadriplegia can include:

  • Loss of feeling or ability to move the feet, legs, shoulders, arms, wrists, and/or hands
  • Decreased or increased muscle tone affecting any or all of the four limbs
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Trouble breathing or inability to breathe without assistance

When a spinal cord injury is suspected following an accident, it is vital that emergency personnel take great care in moving the patient, as even slight shifting can exacerbate the damage and increase the risk of permanent quadriplegia or paraplegia.

How are quadriplegia and paraplegia treated?

Immediate Care: Following an accident resulting in spinal cord injury, the primary goal of care is to prevent further damage. Doctors will often administer corticosteroids via injection to reduce swelling and inflammation at the injury site. It is vital that these drugs be administered within eight hours following spinal cord injury in order to be effective. Doctors may also administer additional drugs like analgesics and muscle relaxants to help control spasms. In cases where the vertebrae have been broken or damaged, a doctor may surgically implant steel rods to stabilize the spine and prevent further damage to the spinal cord itself. Doctors will also remove blood and bone fragments surrounding the area of the spinal cord injury, if necessary.

A number of medical tests can be performed to determine the nature and extent of spinal cord injuries and to make a diagnosis of paraplegia or quadriplegia. Medical professionals may perform a neurological examination, asking a series of questions or asking the patient to perform simple activities, to determine what area of the spinal cord is affected. CAT Scan, MRI, and x-rays may be used to determine the nature and severity of a spinal cord injury.

Long-term Care/Rehabilitation: Long-term care for paraplegia and quadriplegia largely depends on whether the paralysis was complete or incomplete, temporary or permanent. One of the primary goals of paraplegia and quadriplegia treatment is to prevent complications such as bedsores, urinary tract infections, and pneumonia.

Physical and occupational therapy can help to preserve and strengthen muscle function and keep the joints limber. These forms of therapy can also help patients learn to move around (to the extent that movement is possible), use a wheelchair or other assistive devices, and re-learn to perform daily life activities, such as eating, dressing, and other types of self-care.

Bowel and bladder programs are often necessary components of treatment for paraplegia and quadriplegia. This is because bladder and bowel control are often lost or diminished in patients with paraplegia or quadriplegia.

Drug therapy may be administered to control pain, control blood pressure, increase blood flow and reduce swelling in the spinal cord area, and more.

Respiratory therapy may be required for patients with paraplegia or quadriplegia.

Surgery may be necessary to during the treatment and rehabilitation process.

Mental health care is often part of paraplegia and quadriplegia treatment because these injuries can be emotionally devastating, causing depression, loss of self-esteem, and more. Caring medical professionals can help patients and their families deal with both the physical and emotional effects of a spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis.

What is the prognosis for patients with paraplegia and quadriplegia?

The prognosis, or outcome, for patients with paraplegia and quadriplegia depends on the nature of the injury, the care given immediately following the injury (and the success of that care), and the extent of the damage. Generally speaking, recovery is more likely if the paralysis is incomplete and temporary and some return of feeling and/or function occurs within the first seven to ten days following the injury. In cases where feeling and function have not returned during the first six months of treatment, paralysis is often permanent.

Some cases of spinal cord injury, particularly higher-level cervical spinal cord injury, are fatal. Complications from spinal cord injury can also threaten the lives of patients.

Have you suffered paraplegia or quadriplegia?

If you or a loved one has developed paraplegia or quadriplegia resulting from a spinal cord injury, the effects can be devastating, not only physically and emotionally, but also financially. If your spinal cord injury was the result of an accident or another party’s negligence or malice, you may have the legal right to seek compensation for your past and future losses and suffering. You may be able to recover damages for your emergency care, hospital bills, rehabilitation, in-home services, assistive devices, disability, pain and suffering, loss of income and/or earning potential, and more.

To learn more about how you can seek compensation for your losses and suffering, please contact the qualified and experienced attorneys at Oshman & Mirisola today. Our caring team is prepared to evaluate the details of you case to determine the best way to help you and your family.

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