Types of Paralysis
In reality, there are many types of paralysis because there are innumerable ways that the body can be injured. There are four main categories of paralysis, however, which have to do with the portion of the body that is affected.
What is Monoplegia?
Monoplegia is paralysis of a single area of the body, most typically one limb. People with monoplegia typically retain control over the rest of their body, but cannot move or feel sensations in the affected limb.
What Causes Monoplegia?
Though cerebral palsy is the leading cause of monoplegia, a number of other injuries and ailments can lead to this form of partial paralysis, including:
- Nerve damage due to injuries or diseases
- Nerve impingement
- Motor neuron damage
- Brain injuries
- Impacted or severed nerves at the affected location
Monoplegia is sometimes a temporary condition, and is especially common in the aftermath of a stroke or brain injury. When the nerves affecting the paralyzed area are not fully severed, it is often possible to regain significant function through physical therapy.
Read more about monoplegia.
What is Hemiplegia?
Hemiplegia affects an arm and a leg on the same side of the body. With hemiplegia, the degree of paralysis varies from person to person, and may change over time. Hemiplegia often begins with a sensation of pins and needles, progresses to muscle weakness, and escalates to complete paralysis. However, many people with hemiplegia find that their degree of functioning varies from day to day, and depending on their overall health, activity level, and other factors.
Hemiplegia should not be confused with hemiparesis, which refers to weakness on one side of the body. Nevertheless, hemiparesis is often a precursor to hemiplegia, particularly for people with neurological issues.
Hemiplegia is sometimes temporary, and the overall prognosis depends on treatment, including early interventions such as physical and occupational therapy.
What Causes Hemiplegia?
As with monoplegia, the most common cause is cerebral palsy. However, other conditions, such as incomplete spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, and nervous system disorders can also result in hemiplegia.
Read more about hemiplegia.
What is Paraplegia?
Paraplegia refers to paralysis below the waist, and usually affects both legs, the hips, and other functions, such as sexuality and elimination. Though stereotypes of being paralyzed below the waist hold that paraplegics cannot walk, move their legs, or feel anything below the waist, the reality of paraplegia varies from person to person—and sometimes, from day to day.
Thus paraplegia refers to substantial impairment in functioning and movement, not necessarily a permanent and total paralysis. Rarely, people with paraplegia spontaneously recover. This may be due to brain or spinal cord functions that are not yet understood, such as regeneration of neurons. More typically, paraplegics are able to regain some functioning with physical therapy, which works to retrain the brain and spinal cord to work around limitations while strengthening muscles and nerve connections.
What Causes Paraplegia?
Spinal cord injuries are the most common cause of paraplegia. These injuries impede the brain's ability to send and receive signals below the site of the injury. Some other causes include:
Read more about paraplegia.
- Spinal cord infections
- Spinal cord lesions
- Brain tumors
- Brain infections
- Rarely, nerve damage at the hips or waist; this more typically causes some variety of monoplegia or hemiplegia.
- Brain or spinal cord oxygen deprivation due to choking, surgical accidents, violence, and similar causes.
- Congenital malformations in the brain or spinal cord
What is Quadriplegia?
Quadriplegia, which is often referred to as tetraplegia, is paralysis below the neck. All four limbs, as well as the torso, are typically affected. As with paraplegia, though, the degree of disability and loss of function may vary from person to person, and even from moment to moment. Likewise, some quadriplegics spontaneously regain some or all functioning, while others slowly retrain their brains and bodies through dedicated physical therapy and exercise.
What Causes Quadriplegia?
Occasionally, quadriplegia is a temporary condition due to brain injuries, stroke, or temporary compression of spinal cord nerves. Some spinal cord injury survivors temporarily suffer from quadriplegia immediately after the injury, then experience a less systematic form of paralysis as swelling goes down, the nerves become less compressed, or surgery reverses some damage.
As with paraplegia, spinal cord injuries are the leading cause of quadriplegia. The most common causes of spinal cord injuries include automobile accidents, acts of violence, falls, and sporting injuries, especially injuries due to contact sports such as football. Traumatic brain injuries can also cause this form of paralysis. Other sources of quadriplegia include:
- Acquired brain injuries due to infections, stroke, and other disease-related processes.
- Loss of oxygen to the brain and spinal cord due to choking, anesthesia-related accidents, anaphylactic shock, and some other causes.
- Spinal and brain lesions
- Spinal and brain tumors
- Spinal and brain infections
- Catastrophic nerve damage throughout the body
- Congenital abnormalities
- Early brain injuries, especially pre-birth or during-birth injuries that lead to cerebral palsy, which can produce a range of symptoms, including varying degrees of paralysis
- Allergic reactions to drugs
- Drug or alcohol overdoses
Read more about quadriplegia.
If you want to learn more about paralysis causes, types of paralysis, and how to cope with paralyzing conditions, please reach out to the spinalcord.com team today! We’re here to help.
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- Holdsworth FW, Hardy A. Early Treatment of Paraplegia From Factures Of The Thoraco-Lumbar Spine. Semantics Scholar. Learn More