Types of paralysis

Different Types of Paralysis

There are several different in which paralysis is classified, as well as numerous reasons why paralysis, in one form or another, may occur.

Traumatic damage to the body, such as a serious spinal cord injury, can cause paralysis. But it can also be caused by a variety of different medical conditions and diseases such as cancer and stroke.

Here we take a closer look at the different types of paralysis, how they differ and what they mean for the affected individual.

What is Paralysis?

Paralysis is the lack of ability to move a part of the body. It can be temporary or permanent.

Paralysis is not caused by damage to a specific organ or part of the body but a result of damage to nerves that are involved in movement.

If someone has a complete spinal injury that affects the lower back, it is likely to cause paralysis to the area below the area of the damage, including the legs.

In simple terms, our nerves transmit orders and information to and from the brain. When that connection is broken, we are unable to move our legs or lift an arm. If someone has an incomplete spinal injury, paralysis is likely to be partial and may affect some parts of the body rather than others.

What Can Cause Paralysis?

Paralysis can occur as a result of a variety of medical conditions and circumstances. The vast majority of spinal cord injuries are caused by accidents and trauma. Vehicle accidents and diving injuries are some of the most common causes of spinal cord injury worldwide.

Paralysis may also occur because of a medical condition, such as:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that causes the degeneration and death of individual nerves and eventually leads to paralysis.
  • Inherited conditions such Friedreich’s Ataxia.
  • Multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.

Someone who has had a stroke might have nerve damage that causes paralysis of some part of the body. Tumors on the spine, cerebral palsy, viral infections such as Lyme disease and autoimmune disorders are other conditions where loss of movement is a common symptom.

Different Types of Paralysis

Whilst the extent and location of paralysis will depend on the cause of the injury or the type of condition, physicians generally consider there to be 4 separate categories in which paralysis can be classified:

1. Monoplegia

Female with monoplegia
Monoplegia affects one area of the body, usually a single limb

Monoplegia affects only one area of the body, usually a limb such as an arm or leg. There is typically no sensation in the limb and it can the paralysis will be either temporary or permanent.

Commonly associated with cerebral palsy, monoplegia can also occur after a stroke or when nerves are damaged or ‘pinched’ in a particular location. Paralysis can be a symptom that accompanies a condition such as a tumor or other disease that damages or obstructs neurons.

In many circumstances, such as after a stroke, the level of paralysis will begin to reduce as the individual recovers. In the case of cerebral palsy, it often changes and may even remit given time.

2. Hemiplegia

Hemiplegia is a form of paralysis which affects both a leg and an arm on one side of the body.

This specific problem is seen as an issue with the brain rather than damage to the certain area of the spine. It can also be caused a traumatic injury, lack of oxygen on one side of the brain as well as congenital abnormality like cerebral palsy.

Hemiplegia is observed with incomplete spinal injuries, especially when there is damage to the cervical region. It’s also present in disorders of the nervous system and brain injuries.

Treatment depends largely on the cause of the hemiplegia and can range from physiotherapy to surgery.

3. Paraplegia

Paralysis below the waist is called paraplegia and can vary in severity depending on the cause and location. Whilst it almost always means not being able to move the legs, lower body functions such as bowel and bladder elimination can also be affected.

Paraplegia is caused by damage to the spinal cord, usually in the lumbar region. Other causes are spinal infections and lesions, brain tumors, stroke and congenital malformations. The prognosis for someone with paraplegia will typically depend on the level of the injury and the extent of the damage.

4. Quadriplegia (Tetraplegia)

Paralysis below the neck is called quadriplegia or tetraplegia. This form of paralysis affects all limbs and specific body areas, such as the torso, below the point of injury. In some circumstances (for example, following a stroke) it can be a temporary condition, but in most cases, it is permanent.

Spinal cord injuries that occur because of automobile, diving and sporting accidents are some of the main causes of quadriplegia.

Quadriplegia can also be caused by traumatic brain injury, spine and brain tumors and lesions as well as nerve damage throughout the body, something that is seen in diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.