(Paralysis; Loss of Movement)
Paraplegia is the word used to describe the body's loss of movement and/or feeling as a result of an injury to the nervous system. Paraplegia is complete or partial paralysis of the lower half of the body.
Some people may resume some function. Many people with paraplegia may have long-term loss of function.
Injury to the nervous system is the most common cause of paraplegia. Common injuries and other causes include:
- Broken neck
- Broken back
- Spinal cord injury
- Genetic disorder (hereditary spastic paraplegia)
- Congenital (present at birth)
- Autoimmune diseases
- Tumor (either within the spinal cord or pushing on the spinal cord)
- Syrinx (a spinal cord disorder)
Paraplegia is often the result of an accident. People who participate in high-risk or high-contact sports or those who drive recklessly may be at greater risk.
Symptoms will depend on how much of the spinal cord is involved. Symptoms include:
- Loss of movement or muscle control in the legs, feet, toes, or trunk
- Loss of feeling in the legs, feet, toes, or trunk
- Tingling in the legs, feet, toes, or trunk
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
- Sexual difficulties
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Neurosurgeons, orthopedists, and neurologists are involved in diagnosis after a paralytic injury has occurred.
Images may need to be taken of your spine. This can be done with:
Your bodily fluids may need to be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
- Lumbar puncture
An evoked potential nerve test may also be done to evaluate the nerve's pathways.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
Emergency Medical Treatment
If you have an injury that causes paraplegia, emergency treatment is needed to prevent further damage to the nervous system. An evaluation will be done to determine the amount of damage. The doctor will decide what therapies are needed to prevent further injury and improve recovery. Steroids may be used to reduce the swelling of the spinal cord if it has been injured. Surgery may be done to help stabilize or relieve pressure on the spine. Surgery may be needed if a tumor is pushing on the spinal cord. Radiation therapy is another treatment option.
A wheelchair will help with your mobility. Part of your recovery will include finding a wheelchair that best suits your needs and how to use it properly.
Depending on the extent and location on the spine of your injury, you may be able to use a device that fits over your legs and part of your upper body. The fitted metal brace helps you to sit, stand, and/or walk with assistance of a caregiver. It is used in combination with other treatments, such as physical therapy.
Paraplegia is most often caused by injury or accident. The chance of injury resulting in paraplegia may be reduced by paying careful attention to environmental factors. Using safety equipment when playing sports and wearing seatbelts when driving will help reduce the chance that an accident will cause serious injury. You can also reduce these chances by avoiding risk-taking activities, like driving while under the influence or driving when tired.
Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Spinal Cord Injury Canada
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What is paraplegia? Spinal Injury Network website. Available at: http://www.spinal-injury.net/paraplegia.htm. Accessed November 20, 2014.
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Last reviewed December 2014 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.