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What is Quadriplegia and Paraplegia?

Published : 2017-11-25 - Updated : 2020-12-11
Author : Disabled World - Contact: Disabled World (

Synopsis* : Definition of Quadriplegia and Paraplegia including interesting spinal cord injury (SCI) information and statistics. The clinical term incomplete when applied to spinal cord injury indicates that the patient has some sensory or motor function below the lesion level. A more controversial term relates to the word complete when applied to spinal cord injury.

Main Digest

Defining Paraplegia and Quadriplegia

What Does "Complete" and "Incomplete" SCI Mean?

Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

The clinical term incomplete when applied to spinal cord injury indicates that the patient has some sensory or motor function below the lesion level. As defined recently in the International and American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury, the term has been given an even more specific meaning, indicating a person with preservation motor or sensory function in the last sacral segment (S4-5).

This definition gets around the problem often encountered in the clinical setting of a patient who has an injury at a given level, some preserved sensation or motor function or several segments, and then no function below that level. By defining incomplete as having some function at the lowest level of the spinal cord, the definition becomes unambiguous.

Complete Spinal Cord Injury

A more controversial term relates to the word complete when applied to spinal cord injury. By the ASIA definition, a person that does not have preserved sacral sensory or motor function should be complete. Unfortunately, the term has connotations of complete loss and a finality that is not desirable. Some patients with complete loss of neurological function below the lesion level may still recover several segments, especially when treated shortly after injury."

Facts and Major Causes of SCI

Marital status at injury:

5 years post-injury:

Employment status among persons between 16 and 59 years of age at injury:

(includes: students, retired, and homemakers)

Employed 8 years post-injury:

Since 1988, 45% of all injuries have been complete, 55% incomplete. Complete injuries result in total loss of sensation and function below the injury level. Incomplete injuries result in partial loss. "Complete" does not necessarily mean the cord has been severed. Each of the above categories can occur in paraplegia and quadriplegia.

Except for the incomplete-Preserved motor (functional), no more than 0.9% fully recover, although all can improve from the initial diagnosis.

Overall, slightly more than 1/2 of all injuries result in quadriplegia. However, the proportion of quadriplegics increase markedly after age 45, comprising 2/3 of all injuries after age 60 and 87% of all injuries after age 75.

92% of all sports injuries result in quadriplegia.

Most people with neurologically complete lesions above C-3 die before receiving medical treatment. Those who survive are usually dependent on mechanical respirators to breathe.

50% of all cases have other injuries associated with the spinal cord injury.

It is now known that the length of stay and hospital charges for acute care and initial rehabilitation are higher for cases where admission to the SCI system is delayed beyond 24 hours.

Average length of stay:

Average charges (1990 dollars)

Source of payment acute care:

Ongoing medical care: (Many people have more than one source of payment.)

Overall, 85% of SCI patients who survive the first 24 hours are still alive 10 years later, compared with 98% of the non-SCI population given similar age and sex.

The most common cause of death is respiratory ailment, whereas, in the past, it was renal failure. An increasing number of people with SCI are dying of unrelated causes such as cancer or cardiovascular disease, similar to that of the general population.

Mortality rates are significantly higher during the first year after injury than during subsequent years.

About the Author

Disabled World (Disabled-World.Com) is an independent disability community established in 2004 to provide disability news, assistive technology reviews, and disability sporting events, as well as general information for people with disabilities, seniors, their family and/or carers. Be sure to check out our homepage for informative reviews, exclusive stories and how-tos. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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*Disclaimer: Disabled World provides general information only. Materials presented are in no way meant to be a substitute for professional medical care by a qualified practitioner, nor should they be construed as such. Any 3rd party offering or advertising on does not constitute endorsement by Disabled World. View our Advertising Policy for further information. Please report outdated or inaccurate information to us.

Cite Page: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Disabled World. Electronic Publication Date: 2017-11-25 - Revised: 2020-12-11. Title: What is Quadriplegia and Paraplegia?, Source: <a href=>What is Quadriplegia and Paraplegia?</a>. Retrieved 2021-04-18, from - Reference: DW#248-13173.