July 20, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy
Paraplegia is a tragic condition, both for the patient and for their loved ones. As the paraplegic and those around him or her try to adjust to living with this condition, there’s one question which is on everyone’s mind: Is this permanent?
Sadly, there is no cure for paraplegia. In order to understand why, we need to clarify what the condition actually is, and what causes it.
What is a paraplegic?
A paraplegic is someone suffering from paraplegia, which is a paralysis of the legs and and lower body. Typically this means loss of movement, and thus, the use of one’s legs. A paraplegic may or may not also have lost sensation in these body parts. In contrast, quadriplegia refers to a more complete form of paralysis, in which use of all four limbs has been lost.
What causes paraplegia?
There are numerous possible causes of paraplegia. Certain diseases have been known to leave the patient as a paraplegic. These include syphilis, spinal tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, and poliomyelitis. But in most cases, the cause is a spinal cord injury (SCI).
The spinal cord is the bundle of nerve tissue which carries signals between the brain and other parts of the body. When an injury damages the nerves in the spinal cord, the flow of information is interrupted. This results in the loss of movement, sensation, and even reflexes in the area below the level of the injury. How severe the effects will be depends both on the extent of the injury, and its location. If the spinal cord was completely cut, there will be more serious loss of capacity, possibly including the loss of sexual functioning, as well as the loss of bladder or bowel control.
The location of the injury will determine what body parts are affected. An injury to the lowest part of the spinal cord will likely result the person being a paraplegic, but may not affect anything other than their legs. Injuries higher up on the cord may cause the loss of more functions. When injuries occur towards the top of the spinal cord, there may be loss of movement in arms as well as legs (quadriplegia) and even loss of the muscles used to breathe.
What’s the prognosis for a paraplegic?
Sadly, spinal cord injuries never heal. Once there has been damage to the nerve tissue sufficient to stop the transmission of messages to and from the brain, that ability won’t be regained. Unlike skin or other body parts which can develop new tissue to heal, nerve cells are so specialized that they body can’t repair or regenerate new cells.
Fortunately, while paraplegia is indeed a permanent condition, there is a lot that can be done to help paraplegics return to leading a normal and meaningful life. A variety of assistive devices are available to facilitate performing daily tasks that might otherwise be difficult or impossible for a paraplegic to accomplish. In addition, researchers continue to explore the possibility of methods to help repair and perhaps even regenerate and replace damaged nerve tissue, so hope exists that at some point, being a paraplegic may no longer be a permanent condition.