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How are quadriplegia and paraplegia different?

On Behalf of | Apr 16, 2020 | Personal Injury |

Spinal cord injuries are distressingly common. Globally, there are between 250,000 and 500,000 new spinal cord injuries that occur every year. Traumatic injury to the spinal cord can result in permanent damage that causes paralysis. 

According to Medical News Today, two of the most common types of paralysis to occur due to traumatic spinal cord injuries are quadriplegia and paraplegia. They are different in the limbs that each affects and the effects that each have on your life in the long term. 

Affected Limbs 

The different types of paralysis get their names in part from the number of limbs affected. Quadriplegia affects all four limbs, i.e., both arms and both legs. Paraplegia affects only the legs, not the arms. However, sometimes there is also some involvement of the lower abdomen. 

Level of injury 

The spinal cord has three different levels. The lumbar level is in the low back, the thoracic level is in the chest and the cervical level is in the neck. A traumatic injury to the cervical level of the spine can cut off nerve signals to everything below the neck, which results in quadriplegia. An injury at the lumbar level or the lower thoracic level may result in paraplegia. 

Long-term effects 

Quadriplegia often causes a significant loss of independence. If you are quadriplegic, you may be unable to move your body from a bed to a wheelchair, or vice versa, without the aid of a device or someone else’s assistance. Eating, bathing, dressing and other activities of daily living may be extremely difficult, and you may have trouble swallowing, speaking or even breathing on your own. 

Paraplegia may allow you to retain a greater degree of independence because you still retain your function in your upper body. However, you may need to rely on a wheelchair to get around and experience complications such as sexual dysfunction and reduced bowel and bladder control.