Paraplegia is a type of spinal injury that causes impairment of the motor and sensory nerve functions leading to loss of feeling or movement of the lower extremities. Paraplegia can also be described as partial or complete paralysis that mostly affects the legs, pelvic region and trunk hindering any kind of movement.
An injury or trauma to the vertebral column affects the brain and spinal cord’s ability to send and receive messages from the brain to the different parts of the body that are controlled by the sensory, motor and autonomic nerve functions. This results in loss of any kind of sensation below the thoracic region of the body and is unable to move them. Also Read: Spinal Cord Injury Day 2019: 5 Common Myths Debunked
Apart from accidents, paraplegia can also occur due to spina bifida, genetic disorder, autoimmune disorders, stroke, loss of oxygen to the brain, cancerous growths in the brain or spinal column, alcohol addiction or any congenital motor neuron disease.
Paraplegia is of two types:
In this case, all the nerves don’t stop functioning and hence the patient can feel sensations and move the limbs to a certain extent
Here, the paralysis has reached the neurological level causing absolute loss of sensitivity in the lower extremities hindering any kind of movement or sensation.
Risk Factors For Paraplegia:
Certain activities and health reasons can make an individual more prone to acquiring paraplegia, such as:
- Playing sports that are rough in nature, involving massive impact on the spine and limbs in the body, like football, rugby, wrestling
- Engaging in athletic and sports pursuits of gymnastics, diving, surfing, which apply intense pressure on the spine
- Having a prior medical history of cancer or tumour in the brain and spinal cord
- Displaying a family history of hereditary nervous system disorders likely to be passed on from parents/close relatives to children
Different Types Of Paralysis:
While paraplegia hampers the functioning of the limbs in the lower half of the body, it usually affects both legs and feet. On the other hand, monoplegia impedes the movement of only one limb at a time – either the arm or the leg.
Another form of paralysis is paraparesis, in which paralysis develops in both legs simultaneously but only to a partial extent, with the affected person still being able to control some level of motion in the lower limbs. When a person encounters diplegia, both limbs in either the upper portion or lower part of the body are paralysed at once, with the condition obstructing the smooth movement of both arms or both legs.
Signs and symptoms of paraplegia depend on how badly the spinal column has damaged. Initially, the body seems to be in a spinal shock state which leads to flaccid paralysis and loss of muscle stretching. The other signs and symptoms include:
- Loss of sensation and complete immobility from the waist down
- Problems while breathing, coughing or sneezing
- Loss of control over bladder or bowel motions
- Intense pain and stinging sensation in the lower extremities
- Loss of libido and change in sexual functions and fertility
- Depression or frequent mood swings
- Weight gain due to loss of physical activities
Diagnosis and Treatment
After the injury or accident, is there is any kind of loss of sensation, the doctor usually diagnoses paraplegia by acknowledging the patient’s complete medical history followed by a thorough physical check-up. The doctor may also carry out the following tests which include:
- X-ray to check for any fractures in the spine
- Ct-Scan to understand the severity of the trauma or paralysis
- MRI (i.e. Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to look for any blood clots that may suppress the spinal fluid
- Complete Blood Count
- Evoked Potential Nerve Test to assess the nerve pathways to the affected area
- Lumbar Puncture using the cerebrospinal fluid to rule out any other spinal infections
Paraplegia can be treated in the initial stages by medications and traction therapy to improve immobilisation. During the treatment, the doctor also makes it a point to prevent any underlying secondary problems like blood clots, pressure ulcers, bladder or bowel troubles, respiratory infections, etc. Sometimes, he may also suggest hospitalization or surgical procedures improve the condition.
Although there might not be any permanent remedy for this condition, over time researchers have found out new and evolved technologies to slowly restore movement in case of chronic conditions which may take from four to six weeks.
Also read: Spinal Cord Injury: Learn How Rehabilitation Improves Your Quality Of Life