The Difference between Paraplegia and Quadriplegia

Paraplegia and quadriplegia are two completely different issues that result from a myriad of spinal cord injuries. They both refer to a type of paralysis that can occur in someone of any age as a result of an injury to the spinal cord. Paralysis is a general term that is used to describe the general loss of movement or sensation following damage to the nervous system. The human nervous system is comprised of millions of nerves and neural cells that send chemical signals throughout the body. These chemical signals result in movement and function. The majority of the nerves in the nervous system sprout from the human spinal cord. When it becomes injured, the injured area contains many nerves that are also injured. A large spinal cord injury could result in some form of paralysis and loss of function. Paraplegia is a type of paralysis that occurs when a patient only loses function or sensation in their lower extremities but does not lose function in their arms. Quadriplegia is a type of paralysis that occurs when a patient loses function and sensation in their arms and legs. Both types can be complete or incomplete depending on the nerves that were affected.


Paraplegia affects a person’s lower extremities. It is the result of a person suffering a spinal cord injury at the thoracic level or below. Complete spinal cord injuries result in paralysis that will never get better. Incomplete spinal cord injuries can cause paralysis that can heal somewhat over time. However, even with incomplete spinal cord injuries patients may never regain full use of their legs again. Both types of spinal cord injuries are severe and can result in paraplegia. This type of paralysis also often affects abdominal muscles. Patients with diagnosed paraplegia can lose the ability to stretch and move their abdominal muscles. If this is the case then they may find it harder to recover from their injuries since core strength is used every day. Patients who lose control of their abdominal muscles may also experience bowel and bladder dysfunction and impairment of sexual function. Chronic pain, low blood pressure, and an inability to control body temperature are all also symptoms of paraplegia.

Types of Paraplegic Spinal Cord Injuries

Paraplegia can occur in any patient that suffers a spinal cord injury at or below their thoracic level. The human spine is composed of four different types of vertebrae: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. The thoracic, lumbar and sacral spinal cord sections could all have injuries that result in paraplegia. Here is a list of a few spinal cord injuries that could result in paraplegia:

  1. Injuries between T1 and T8 usually result in paralysis of the legs and diminished abdominal muscle control. Sitting balance may be affected and patients may also lose control of their bladder and bowels.
  2. Injuries between T9 and T12 usually only result in paralysis of the legs. These patients tend to have good control of their abdominal muscles and do not have any diminished control of their internal organs.
  3. Lumbar or Sacral injuries can cause patients to lose control of their hip flexors along with their legs.


Quadriplegia is a type of paralysis that affects a person’s arms and legs. Quadriplegia, or tetraplegia, is the result of a severe spinal cord injury to the cervical spinal cord. Patients with quadriplegia often have no control of their limbs or torso, and if the injury occurs high enough in the neck then they may even lose control of their breathing and need to be on a ventilator for the rest of their lives. This type of paralysis is far more debilitating than paraplegia and patients with quadriplegia often need full time care.

Types of Quadriplegic Spinal Cord Injuries

Every spinal cord injury is different and unique. Depending on the area of the spine that is affected and the amount of spine that is affected the injury can be very simple or very complex. Here are a few of the types of the injuries that can occur and lead to quadriplegia:

  1. Injuries between C7 and T1 result in patients who can straighten their arms and move them slightly. They may not have dexterity in their arms or hands though even though they can move them.
  2. Injuries between C1 and C4 lead to deficits in involuntary bodily functions such as breathing, bladder function and bowel function. They also will not be able to move their arms, legs or torso.
  3. Injuries in the C5 region result in patients still being able to control their shoulders and biceps but not their wrists or hands. They also will not be able to control their torso or legs.

Spinal cord injuries are serious injuries that affect millions of people each year. Car accidents, severe falls, and even some surgeries can result in injury to the spinal cord that could result in some form of paralysis. Fortunately, modern medicine has improved the lives of paralyzed patients greatly by offering them rehab and other surgical procedures to regain some of their function. Even so, patients who have incomplete spinal cord injuries who do have good prognoses may need two to three years to completely recover and regain all of their functions and movements. During their recovery period their spinal cord has to rejuvenate and all of their nerves have to regrow and reconnect with other nerves in the nervous system. This takes time and effort and is also dependent on the patient’s age. Younger patients who undergo spinal cord injuries have a greater chance of fully recovering than people in the elderly population. If you or someone you love has suffered from a spinal cord injury then you can help them by always being there for them. Patients who undergo spinal cord injuries often struggle with their injuries both physically and emotionally. They need support of their family and friends to get through their injury and to possibly recover or learn how to deal with their new body. Stay close and be supportive as they go through their medical journey to hopefully regain some of their functioning ability.