Quadriplegia and Spinal Cord Injury
(Also known as Tetraplegia)
Quadriplegia is partial or complete paralysis that affects both the arms and the legs. It typically results from injuries to vertebrae near the neck (cervical vertebrae). By contrast, paraplegia only affects the lower extremities of the body, notably the legs.
While the spinal cord is protected by bones called vertebrae, it can be put at risk through trauma or disease. Patients that experience damage to their upper back or neck may experience quadriplegia, and possibly lose function in the arms, legs, trunk, and in some cases, the neck.
With injuries located towards the very top of the cervical vertebrae (C-4 or above), respiratory function may be severely impaired. In these cases, patients may require a respiratory machine. As a general rule of thumb, injuries that are located higher in the spine cause a deeper level of paralysis.
A common misconception is that people with quadriplegia lose control of all muscle function. This is simply not true. Some quadriplegics may lose all function below the neck. Others may retain function at the neck area and even control their hand movements. (Hence the rise of athletic activities for those with quadriplegia, such as "Quad Rugby.")
One of the leading causes of quadriplegia is motor vehicle accidents. Collisions, no matter the speed, place pressure and strain on the cervical vertebrae.
Other causes of quadriplegia/tetraplegia include traumatic injuries that stem from sports accidents, falls, workplace accidents, and recreational activities. Quadriplegia can also be caused by diseases, such as polio or spina bifida.
- Autonomic Dysreflexia
- Bowel and Bladder Complications
- Involuntary Spasms
- Low Blood Pressure
- Respiratory Problems
- Skin Sores
Unfortunately, there is no cure for quadriplegia. Immediately after the injury, doctors often focus on minimizing swelling and preserving as much of the nerve function as possible.
Treatment is tailored to each patient, as each patient will have a different set of symptoms and complication. Additionally, studies have shown that immediate physical therapy and rehabilitation gives patients the best hope of preserving nerve function and for regaining fine motor skills.