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What is Quadriplegia: Quadriplegic Facts and Definition

  • Publish Date : 2010/09/26 - (Rev. 2018/04/23)
  • Author : Disabled World
  • Contact : disabled-world.com

Synopsis: Facts and definition regarding Quadriplegia a four limb paralysis also known as Tetraplegia Persons having Quadriplegia are referred to as quadriplegics.

Main Document

Cervical (neck) injuries usually result in four limb paralysis, referred to as either Tetraplegia or Quadriplegia.

Quadriplegia, also known as Tetraplegia, is defined as paralysis caused by illness or injury to a human that results in the partial or total loss of use of all their limbs and torso; paraplegia is similar but does not affect the arms. The loss is usually sensory and motor, which means that both sensation and control are lost. Tetraparesis or quadriparesis, on the other hand, means muscle weakness affecting all four limbs.

An impairment in motor or sensory function of the lower extremities is known as Paraplegia.

Quadriplegia, or tetraplegia, are defined as "paralysis of four limbs", tetraplegia is more commonly used in Europe than in the United States. In 1991, when the American Spinal Cord Injury Classification system was being revised, it was recommended that the term tetraplegia be used to improve consistency. Pentaplegia is a less common term referring to paralysis which also substantially affects head movement.

Quadriplegia is paralysis caused by illness or injury to a human that results in the partial or total loss of use of all their limbs and torso; Paraplegia is similar but does not affect the arms. The loss is usually sensory and motor, which means both sensation and control are lost.

Causes of Quadriplegia

Quadriplegia is caused by damage to the brain or the spinal cord at a high level C1 - C7 - in particular, spinal cord injuries secondary to an injury to the cervical spine. The injury, known as a lesion, causes victims to lose partial or total function of all four limbs, meaning the arms and the legs. Quadriplegia is defined in many ways; C1-C4 usually affects arm movement more so than a C5-C7 injury (Spine and spinal cord picture and information C1 to S5 Vertebra); however all quadriplegics have or have had some kind of finger dysfunction. So, it is not uncommon to have a quadriplegic with fully functional arms, only having their fingers not working.

Injuries above the C-4 level may require a ventilator or electrical implant for the person to breathe. This is because the diaphragm is controlled by spinal nerves exiting at the upper level of the neck. Refers to paralysis from approximately the shoulders down. Most spinal cord injuries result in loss of sensation and function below the level of injury, including loss of controlled function of the bladder and bowel.

Quadriplegia Complications:

Quadriplegia can cause a number of complications including;

  • Pain
  • Blood clots
  • Pressure sores
  • Related injuries
  • Spastic muscles
  • Respiratory problems
  • Autonomic dysreflexia
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control

Quadriplegia treatment is catered to the specific needs of each patient and often depends on the nature and severity of a person's condition. Treatment generally addresses a patient's loss of functioning and feeling in certain areas of the body, loss or impairments in organ functioning

Today, spinal cord injury treatment focuses on preventing further injury and enabling people with a spinal cord injury to return to an active and productive life within the limits of their disability.


  • Since 2005, motor vehicle crashes account for 42.1% of reported SCI cases. The next most common cause of SCI is falls, followed by acts of violence (primarily gunshot wounds), and recreational sporting activities.
  • It is estimated that the annual incidence of spinal cord injury (SCI), not including those who die at the scene of the accident, is approximately 40 cases per million population in the U. S. or approximately 12,000 new cases each year.
  • People with a spinal cord injury are two to five times more likely to die prematurely than people without a spinal cord injury, with worse survival rates in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Mortality rates are significantly higher during the first year after injury than during subsequent years, particularly for severely injured persons.
  • The number of people in the United States who are alive in 2008 who have SCI has been estimated to be approximately 259,000 persons, with a range of 229,000 to 306,000 persons.
  • Over the last 15 years, the percentage of persons with incomplete tetraplegia has increased slightly while complete paraplegia has decreased slightly.
  • From 1973 to 1979, the average age at injury was 28.7 years, and most injuries occurred between the ages of 16 and 30. However, as the median age of the general population of the United States has increased by approximately 8 years since the mid-1970's, the average age at injury has also steadily increased over time. Since 2005, the average age at injury is 40.2 years.
  • Currently, 80.9% of spinal cord injuries reported to the national database have occurred among males.
  • Violence caused 13.3% of spinal cord injuries prior to 1980, and peaked between 1990 and 1999 at 24.8% before declining to only 15.1% since 2005.
  • The most frequent neurologic category at discharge of persons reported to the database is incomplete tetraplegia (30.1%), followed by complete paraplegia (25.6%), complete tetraplegia (20.4%), and incomplete paraplegia (18.5%).
  • Spinal cord injury is associated with lower rates of school enrollment and economic participation, and it carries substantial individual and societal costs.
  • Life expectancies for persons with SCI continue to increase, but are still somewhat below life expectancies for those with no spinal cord injury.

Statistics Source: National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC)

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