96908 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Quadriplegia and Paraplegia


    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.
    • Paraplegia—paralysis of both legs
    • Quadriplegia, sometimes called tetraplegia—paralysis of both legs and both arms
    AL00174 96472 1 labeled
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    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:
    • Paraplegia—damage below the neck
    • Quadraplegia—damage to the spinal cord at the base of the skull or neck
    exh41804a 96472 1 quadri
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Risk Factors

    If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to these conditions. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Factors that put you at risk for quadriplegia and paraplegia include:
    • Jobs or sports activities that increase your chances of spinal injury—high-risk sports, such as football, rugby, wrestling, gymnastics, diving, surfing, ice hockey, and downhill skiing
    • Family history of certain inherited nerve diseases
    • History of cancer—can cause compression of the spinal cord


    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:
    • Incontinence —bladder or bowel
    • Sexual dysfunction — male or female
    • Trouble breathing
    • Difficulty sitting upright depending on the level of the damage
    Inactivity due to paraplegia and quadriplegia can cause additional problems, like:
    People with paraplegia and quadriplegia may also become depressed because of:
    • Social isolation
    • Lack of emotional support
    • Increased dependence on others


    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:
      Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with: Your nerve function may be tested. This can be done 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:
    • Medications
    • Surgery
    • Intensive physical therapy
    • Counseling
    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:
    • Drive safely. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries. Wear a seat belt every time you drive. Make sure your children wear seat belts or are in child safety seats. Don't drive if you have been drinking or using drugs.
    • Be safe with firearms. Lock guns and ammunition in a safe place. Store them separately in locked containers.
    • Take measures to avoid falls. Use a stool or stepladder to reach high places. Add handrails along stairways. Place nonslip mats in your bathroom, shower, and under carpets. To keep children safe, use safety gates to block stairs. Install window guards.
    • Always wear safety gear when playing sports. Avoid headfirst moves, such as:
      • Diving into shallow water
      • Spear tackling in football
      • Sliding headfirst in baseball
      • Skating headfirst into the boards in ice hockey
    • Use a spotter in gymnastics. Do not jump from very high places.


    American Muscular Dystrophy Association http://www.mdausa.org

    The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation http://www.paralysis.org


    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

    Canadian Paraplegic Association (Manitoba) http://www.cpamanitoba.ca/


    Binard JE. Care and treatment of spinal cord injury patients. J Am Paraplegia Soc . 1992;15:235-249.

    Dorizzi A. Guidelines for management of spinal cord injury: spinal surgery study group of the Italian Society of Neurosurgery. J Neurosurg Sci . 1997;41:133-138.

    Lukas RV, Chmura S, Nicholas MK. Management of central nervous system metastases from renal cancer. Emerging Cancer Therapeutics. 2011;2(1):157-168.

    Shakur S, Takagi I, Lukas RV, Chmura S, Gajewski T, Roitberg BZ. Ocular melanoma metastasis to the cervical spine: a case report. Journal of Clinical Neuroscience. 2012;19(4):610-611.

    Spinal cord injury—acute management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 23, 2013. Accessed February 21, 2013.

    Spinal cord injury—chronic management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 23, 2013. Accessed February 21, 2013.

    Revision Information

  • Join WellZones today.

    Make a Change For LifeLearn more

    Wellmont LiveWell is creating a new tradition of wellness in the mountains by providing individuals with tools and encouragement to live healthier lifestyles.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.