Information for Patients
Paralysis is the loss of muscle function in part of your body. It happens when something goes wrong with the way messages pass between your brain and muscles. Paralysis can be complete or partial. It can occur on one or both sides of your body. It can also occur in just one area, or it can be widespread. Paralysis of the lower half of your body, including both legs, is called paraplegia. Paralysis of the arms and legs is quadriplegia.
Most paralysis is due to strokes or injuries such as spinal cord injury or a broken neck. Other causes of paralysis include
- Nerve diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Autoimmune diseases such as Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Bell's palsy, which affects muscles in the face
Polio used to be a cause of paralysis, but polio no longer occurs in the U.S.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Your spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that runs down the middle of your back. It carries signals back and forth between your body and your brain. A spinal cord injury disrupts the signals. Spinal cord injuries usually begin with a blow that fractures or dislocates your vertebrae, the bone disks that make up your spine. Most injuries don't cut through your spinal cord. Instead, they cause damage when pieces of vertebrae tear into cord tissue or press down on the nerve parts that carry signals.
Spinal cord injuries can be complete or incomplete. With a complete spinal cord injury, the cord can't send signals below the level of the injury. As a result, you are paralyzed below the injury. With an incomplete injury, you have some movement and sensation below the injury.
A spinal cord injury is a medical emergency. Immediate treatment can reduce long-term effects. Treatments may include medicines, braces or traction to stabilize the spine, and surgery. Later treatment usually includes medicines and rehabilitation therapy. Mobility aids and assistive devices may help you to get around and do some daily tasks.
NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke