Paraplegia is the paralysis of the lower body, particularly the legs. Typically caused by damage to the spinal cord, a traumatic injury or congenital condition may be to blame. In most cases, paraplegia results from an injury to the vertebrae and spinal cord in the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral spine.
How a person experiences paraplegia can vary widely based on the location and completeness of their injury as well as many other factors. When a spinal cord injury occurs, the nerves receive damage, and the brain can no longer communicate with the body below the level of injury. In a complete injury, the victim loses all sensory feedback and motor function below the level of the injury.
In an incomplete spinal cord injury, the person may retain some sensation, experience tingling, or have a complete loss of feeling. They may also have limited motor functioning or no movement at all.
Diagnosis and Prognosis
When a doctor sees a patient with a spinal cord injury in the emergency department, stabilizing them, so their life is not in danger is the priority. Because of how low in the back injuries to the thoracic, lumbar, and sacral spine occur, most patients can breathe on their own unless they suffered other injuries as well.
Once the patient’s life is not in danger, it is time for the doctor to assess their spinal cord injury. This requires X-rays, CT scans, and other medical imaging as well as neurological tests to determine sensation and motor function.
It is important to note that there is no way to offer an accurate prognosis this early in the process. Some injuries that appear complete at first glance are, in fact, incomplete. It is possible to recover sensation and motor function in an incomplete injury after the swelling goes down and through rehabilitation.
Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries and Paraplegia
Most acquired spinal cord injuries and brain injuries that lead to paraplegia are traumatic. Tripping over a hazard in the walkway and falling a few feet is unlikely to cause paraplegia. However, tripping over the same hazard and tumbling down a flight of stairs might. The top causes of paraplegia include:
- Car, truck, and motorcycle accidents
- Falls from a height
- Violence, such as gunshot wounds or stabbings
- Sports and recreation, often diving or contact sports
- Medical or surgical mistakes
Many people living with paraplegia suffer from congenital conditions such as spina bifida that left them paralyzed from birth.
Living with Paraplegia
Living with paraplegia generally means you suffer a loss of sensation and motor functioning below the site of your injury. A higher injury, such as those in your thoracic spine, will cause you to lose sensation in a greater portion of your body. An injury to the upper thoracic spine may make it difficult to control your trunk while an injury to the sacral spine may allow you to have continued control of your bladder and bowels.
Other signs and complications of paraplegia may include:
- Phantom sensations in the lower body including phantom pain
- Inability to control your bladder and bowel functions
- Depression, anxiety, and other changes in mood
- Weight gain
- Bed sores and other secondary infections
- Chronic pain
Because every injury is different and every person has a different capacity for dealing with this type of catastrophic injury, the psychological effects of spinal cord injuries are difficult to predict. Many people do suffer from depression following a paralyzing injury, but some maintain a positive attitude. Even those who go through a deep depression may recover quickly as they rehabilitate and regain independence.
Treatment and Rehabilitation Following a Spinal Cord Injury Accident
After determining the location and nature of your injury, your doctor will put a plan in place to stabilize your spine, allow it to heal, and then help you regain as much sensation and motor function as possible. Even in complete injuries when recovery of skills may be impossible, rehabilitation and therapy can help those with paralysis improve mobility and live independent lives.
Treatment for a spinal cord injury may include:
- Surgery to stabilize the spine
- Medication to reduce swelling
- Immobilization through a back brace or other device while healing
Therapy and rehabilitation following a spinal cord injury accident may include:
- Physical therapy to help regain function and rebuild strength
- Exercise therapy to retain muscle mass in the lower body and build muscle mass in the upper body
- Psychotherapy to reduce depression and offer emotional support while you fight to regain independence
- Occupational therapy to help you learn to live with your new impairments, how to provide self-care despite your paralysis, and to gain independence using tools and resources when necessary
While people with paraplegia generally do not regain sensation or motor control during inpatient rehabilitation or outpatient therapy, it is a good investment of their time and a key part of treating these injuries. Learning to adapt and work around your impairments is an integral part of living independently and getting around without relying on others for assistance.
Pursuing Compensation Following a Spinal Cord Injury and Paralysis
If you or a loved one suffers paraplegia following an accident and spinal cord injury, our team of attorneys is here to help. You may be eligible to pursue damages based on your expenses and losses. The Newsome | Melton team offers free case reviews and consultations.
For more than two decades, the attorneys from Newsome | Melton have fought for the rights of their clients. We may be able to pursue damages including:
- Medical expenses
- Ongoing care costs
- Property damages
- Lost wages
- Diminished earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
Let us evaluate your case today. Call us at (800) 917-5888 to learn more.