Paraplegia vs. Quadriplegia: What’s the Difference?

Category: Spinal Cord Injury | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: September 26, 2014

paraplegiaInjuries to the spinal cord can be absolutely debilitating. The spine acts as a safe passageway for our nerves. Spinal cord injuries involving nerves can lead to disability, including paraplegia and quadriplegia. In this blog, we will discuss the differences between paraplegia and tetraplegia, and also talk about some treatment options for each.

Paraplegia & Quadriplegia

Paraplegia and quadriplegia are similar conditions in that they both result directly from injuries to the nerves in the spinal cord. However they differ in the extent and location of the paralysis. The basic distinction between these two conditions is the point at which the spinal nerves are severed – whether it’s above or below the first thoracic spinal nerve (just below the neck).

  • Paraplegia occurs when the nerves are severed below the first thoracic nerve. This can result in varying degrees of paralysis in the lower half of the body – from slight foot impairment, to full loss of feeling below the waist. However, paraplegia does not result in loss of feeling in the arms and hands.
  • Quadriplegia (aka tetraplegia) occurs when the nerves above the first thoracic nerve are severed. Feeling is lost in all four limbs with this type of paralysis.

When these spinal nerves are severed it essentially cuts off communication from the brain to the other areas of the body and makes it impossible for the brain to send commands to the limbs.

Treating these Conditions

As we’ve talked about in a previous blog, once spinal nerves are completely severed, there is usually no chance that they will regenerate. That being said, there are preventive measures that can prevent this type of paralysis – for example, minimally invasive surgery to free up compacted nerves after an injury. If the nerves have already been severed, there is little that can be done to regenerate the nerves unfortunately.

For more information on spinal cord injuries, read our other blogs on:

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