Paraplegia refers to paralysis that occurs in the lower half of the body. It can be a result of an accident or a chronic condition.

People with paraplegia will have mobility problems and may require the use of a wheelchair. However, long-term treatment options exist to help reduce symptoms and complications in people with paraplegia.

This article will discuss what paraplegia is, as well as the different causes and treatments associated with the condition.

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Damage to the brain or spinal cord may result in paraplegia.

Paraplegia is a form of paralysis that mostly affects the movement of the lower body. People with paraplegia may be unable to voluntarily move their legs, feet, and sometimes their abdomen.

Some people experience incomplete paraplegia. This is the case when the paralysis only affects one leg.

Learn more about complete and incomplete spinal cord injuries here.

There are several other types of paralysis. Healthcare professionals might distinguish between the different types depending on the severity, location, or muscle tension.

For example, different forms of paralysis by their location include:

  • monoplegia, which affects one area, such as an arm
  • hemiplegia, which affects one side of the body, such as the left arm and left leg
  • tetraplegia, which affects both arms and both legs

There are many symptoms that can occur in paraplegia. Sometimes, these symptoms will change over time, or even from day to day.

Symptoms might include:

  • a loss of sensation in the lower body
  • impaired mobility
  • weight gain
  • depression
  • phantom bouts of pain or sensation in the lower body
  • chronic pain
  • sexual dysfunction
  • difficulty with bladder and bowel function
  • secondary infections, such as bedsores and skin problems
  • autonomic dysreflexia

People with paraplegia usually have an injury to the brain or spinal cord that prevents signaling to the lower body. The loss of signaling causes paralysis of the lower body.

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, since 2015, 38.3% of spinal injuries have been the result of a vehicle accident, and 31.6% have been from falls. Some other common causes include violent crimes and sporting accidents.

Some chronic conditions can also lead to paraplegia. Conditions that might cause paraplegia include:

To diagnose paraplegia, a doctor will assess the person’s symptoms and medical history. They may also ask about recent accidents and whether or not the person has any family history of certain conditions.

It is important that they establish the cause of paraplegia to determine the most suitable treatment options.

Diagnosing paraplegia will usually involve medical imaging. These tests help doctors assess the damage and identify the cause of paralysis. For example, they might use an MRI scan, a CT scan, or an X-ray.

To test nerve functioning, the doctor may use electromyography. This test measures the body’s responses to the stimulation of the muscle.

There are currently no treatments to prevent or reverse paraplegia. However, it is possible to treat some of the symptoms and complications that occur. It is also possible for some people to regain partial or complete control over affected areas with time.

For example, a doctor may prescribe physical or occupational therapy to help with pain and muscle issues. Physical therapy can also help a person preserve their strength and range of motion.

Devices to support mobility, such as a wheelchair or a mobility scooter, are usually necessary.

A doctor might also suggest some medications. For example, taking muscle-relaxing medications can help with pain or spasms. Taking blood-thinning medications will reduce the risk of blood clots.

In some cases, surgery might be necessary. Surgery can help with swelling and removing lesions.

Over time, paralysis can cause various issues in the body. These issues may vary depending on how severe the paraplegia is and which body parts it affects.

For example, paralysis can lead to spasticity. Disruptions to signaling through the spinal cord can cause overactive muscle responses. This may cause:

  • increased muscle tone
  • muscle spasms
  • rapid muscle contractions
  • fixed joints
  • abnormal tendon reflexes

Some treatments for paraplegia, such as muscle relaxant medications and physical therapy, can help with spasticity.

Paralysis can also affect the digestive system. Over time, this might cause problems with bowel movements. Issues range from constipation to an inability to control bowel movements. Similar issues can occur with the bladder.

Paraplegia might also cause muscle atrophy, which occurs when muscle mass decreases. This causes muscles to become flaccid and weak.

There is also an increased risk of infections, such as sepsis. However, some medications, such as antibiotics, might help reduce the risk of these infections.

Physical therapy is an important part of care for people with paraplegia. It will involve a variety of individualized exercises and routines.

For example, exercises might include:

  • yoga
  • weightlifting
  • water aerobics
  • seated aerobics

Regularly engaging in these exercises will reduce the risk of muscle atrophy. Doing so will also help maintain a person’s mobility, strength, and range of motion.

Paraplegia is a lifelong condition. It can have a major impact on a person’s daily functioning and independence. Complications can occur over time, and symptoms may worsen.

However, a variety of treatments and care options are available to people with paraplegia. These can help people deal with any symptoms and complications that might occur.

Paraplegia severely affects mobility in the lower half of the body. It can be the result of a chronic condition or an accident that causes damage to the brain or spinal cord.

People with paraplegia may experience complications over time, such as spasticity. They usually require daily care and treatment on a long-term basis.

There is currently no cure for paraplegia. However, there are a variety of long-term treatment options available, including physical therapy, medications, and surgery. These may help people regain partial control over the affected areas.