Paraplegia, Tetraplegia & Quadriplegia Explained

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: June 25, 2019

Paraplegia Spine

Spinal cord injuries can be devastating and life changing, and how your world is impacted depends on the location and severity of your injury. The location of the spinal cord injury is a big factor in the extent of the damage, and it also helps doctors classify what type of condition you’re dealing with. Below, we take a closer look at what constitutes paraplegia, tetraplegia and quadriplegia.


Paraplegia is the result of a severe spinal cord injury below the first thoracic spinal level, from the spinal segments T1-L5. Individuals who are categorized as paraplegic still have full use of their arms and hands, but they may have full loss or partial loss of the ability to use their legs. Some paraplegics are completely paralyzed from the waist down, while others have use of their legs but suffer from chronic tingling in the legs, decreased lower body sensations, or other mobility and sensory issues in their lower half.

Depending on the location of the spinal cord injury within the T1-L5 area, paraplegic patients may lose partial or full control of their bladder functions. Others may have no issues with their bladder or sphincter. The good news is that in patients with bladder dysfunction, roughly 30 percent eventually regain bladder control.

Tetraplegia and Quadriplegia

Although they may look like different conditions, tetraplegia and quadriplegia are the same condition. The only reason they have different names is due to their word origin, with “tetra” meaning four in Greek and “quadri” meaning four in Latin. Regardless of what word you go with, they both refer to spinal cord injuries that affect the cervical sections of your spine. The result of an injury at this level is partial or full disability of all four limbs – the arms and legs. It can also affect the person’s ability to breathe on their own.

The degree of paralysis varies on a number of different factors, including the severity of damage to the spinal cord and the extent of your rehabilitative therapy. In general, the higher up the spinal cord injury is located in your cervical spine, the more severe the effects. Some tetraplegics respond well and make noticeable strides during rehab and physical therapy, so it’s important to really throw yourself into a rehabilitation routine.

Since the effects of tetraplegia are so severe, the best thing you can do is to prevent the injury in the first place. Although all spinal cord injuries aren’t preventable, wearing safety gear including seat belts and helmets can go a long way in helping to prevent devastating spinal cord injuries. For more information, or to talk to Dr. Sinicropi and set up an appointment, give his office a call today.

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