Navigating life after a life-changing accident can lead to a spectrum of challenges, especially when it involves spinal cord injuries. Paraplegia and quadriplegia, two severe conditions stemming from spinal cord injuries, are often misrepresented or misunderstood. 

Here is what you should know about the differences between these two forms of paralysis, both of which are considered a type of catastrophic injury.

Spinal Cord Injury Location and Degree of Paralysis

Injuries to the spinal cord result in lost nerve function below the site of injury. When an injury happens higher on the spinal cord, it causes paralysis in most of the body and all the limbs. When the injury is to the lower spinal cord, it affects the lower body and legs. This is because signals to and from the brain are disrupted at the point of injury.

Paralysis can be complete or incomplete. When incomplete, some but not all signals are blocked from the brain. Survivors may retain some ability to move and feel affected body parts. Complete paralysis means the injury has blocked all signals with a complete loss of muscle control and sensations. 

Around one-third of traumatic injuries to the spinal cord are incomplete, while one-fifth are complete.

What Is Paraplegia?

Paraplegia is a form of paralysis that mostly affects the legs. It can also affect some use of the arms and the lower body. When it affects the chest or abdominal muscles, it can make it hard to breathe deeply or cough. The exact symptoms depend on the location of the spinal cord injury. 

Paraplegia results from an injury to the sacral, lumbar, or thoracic spine in the lower neck, back, or where the pelvis and spine meet. 

The effects of paraplegia based on the injury location include the following. 

  • T1 to T6 injury: Complete paraplegia, chest, and abdominal muscles are both affected. Paralysis of the legs and hips, loss of bowel and bladder control, no sensation, and difficulty breathing and coughing. 
  • T7 to T12 injury: Complete paraplegia, chest muscles are not affected, but abdominal muscles are. 
  • L1 to L2 injury: Complete paraplegia, but chest and abdominal muscles are not affected. May or may not retain bladder or bowel control. 
  • L3 to S5 injury: More likely to cause incomplete paraplegia. May retain the ability to walk with the aid of a walker or braces. Bladder and bowel control may be affected. 

The further down the spine the injury occurs, the more likely it is for the paralysis to be incomplete with the ability to retain some motor control and feeling.

What Is Quadriplegia?

Quadriplegia (or tetraplegia) is the most severe form of paralysis. It affects the body and all the limbs from the neck down. About 60% of spinal cord injuries cause quadriplegia. 

Quadriplegia happens when the cervical spine in the neck is injured. 

Here are the effects of quadriplegia, depending on the location of the injury: 

  • C1 to C2 injury: Complete paralysis of all limbs and muscles controlling breathing. Immediate medical attention is required, including ventilation. These injuries block communication with the autonomic nervous system, which controls automatic functions like digestion, blood pressure, and sweating. 
  • C3 to C4 injury: Complete paralysis of all limbs. Control of breathing may not be blocked, but some breathing issues are possible. Coughing is still impacted. 
  • C4 to C8 injury: The level of paralysis in the hands and arms varies depending on location.

Like paraplegia, the higher the injury occurs, the more serious and dangerous it becomes.

Common Causes of Paraplegia and Tetraplegia

Spinal cord injuries that cause tetraplegia and paraplegia can happen in many ways. The most common causes of these catastrophic injuries include: 

  • Car accidents and other motor vehicle crashes
  • Falls, especially in older adults
  • Violence, including blunt impact assault, stab wounds, and gunshots
  • Sports-related injuries

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries.

Paraplegia and quadriplegia can also be caused by infection or disease. Spinal tumors, spinal cord cysts, congenital conditions like spina bifida, and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis are possible causes. Cerebral palsy is a birth injury that may result in paralysis.

The Cost of Paraplegia and Quadriplegia

Paraplegia and quadriplegia are among the most serious injuries you can sustain in an accident. You may face permanent loss of independence, an unimaginable psychological and emotional toll, and a financial burden in the millions. 

The average lifetime cost of paraplegia is $1.5 to $2.3 million. The cost rises to $2.1 million to $4.7 million for tetraplegia. This does not include immediate medical costs, lost earnings, future earning potential, or the psychological impact. 

If you are dealing with paralysis caused by someone else’s intentional or negligent behavior, you may be entitled to recover compensation. Pursuing a case against the at-fault party is crucial to preserving your quality of life and getting the medical care you need.

Contact Attorney Brian White Personal Injury Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation with a Houston spinal cord injury lawyer and discuss how we can help you pursue fair compensation.

Contact a Houston Personal Injury Lawyer to Help You With Your Claim

For more information, contact the Houston personal injury law firm of Attorney Brian White Personal Injury Lawyers by calling (713) 500-5000

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