What’s the difference between paraplegia and quadriplegia?

According to a study initiated by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, there are nearly six million people suffering from some sort of paralysis in the United States. Of this six million, five percent (300,000) are paralyzed as a result of accidental spinal cord injuries. Paralysis from spinal cord injuries are generally classified under one of two categories: paraplegia and quadriplegia.

So what’s the difference?

Differentiating Paraplegia and Quadriplegia

Paraplegia and quadriplegia are both often referred to as paralysis. Although each condition does indicate paralysis, they are two separate conditions affecting different areas and body functions. Characteristics of each condition include:

  • Paraplegia. Derived from two Greek words, “para” (meaning two) and “plegia” (meaning paralysis), the term paraplegia refers to complete paralysis of half the body (generally the lower half), including two limbs. This type of paralysis is the result of an injury below the neck in the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral regions of the spinal cord. Paraplegics are usually hospitalized for up to five months for extensive rehabilitation and therapy and may require the extended use of a wheelchair.
  • Quadriplegia. From the Latin word “quad” (meaning four) and “plegia”, this term refers to partial or complete paralysis of the entire body, encompassing all four limbs, including hips. This type of paralysis is the result of damage to the regions of the spine known as C1 through C4 (the vertebrae in the upper neck). This damage causes the loss of both sensory and motor function, thus completely limiting sensation and control. Quadriplegics usually need at least six to eight months’ worth of extensive rehabilitation before they can be discharged from the hospital to continue treatment and therapy. Most quadriplegics will never fully recover, but treatments and therapy have been known to help improve a patient’s mobility.

Respect, Support, and Help are Inalienable Rights

Now that you know the difference between paraplegia and quadriplegia, make sure you respect the terms as well as those who live with the conditions. Although it may not seem like a big deal to you, referring to someone as being paraplegic when he is actually quadriplegic (or vice versa) can be offensive and cause feelings of remorse and depression. It is best to try to avoid using any term until you know the severity of the injury as well as the person’s willingness to talk about it.

Make sure your family and friends are aware of the different types of SCI paralysis. Use your social media to share this page with them via Facebook or tell them to contact us directly to discuss any potential questions or concerns they may have about a recent accident. We’re waiting to help!

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