Paraplegic vs. Quadriplegic: The Differences and Similarities

July 1, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

Medical terminology wasn’t meant for the average person to understand, because we’re not the intended audience. This type of lingo is reserved for medical professionals, who need precise identification and terminology in order to provide proper treatment. So when a doctor says there’s a lump on the suprasternal notch, medical pros know that means a growth near the sternal notch, which is in the chest.

Among wheelchair users, there are two very common medical terms that are often confused with each other: paraplegic and quadriplegic. What do they mean? What are the differences and similarities? Let’s talk about it:

Similar: Paralysis

Both of these conditions involve some form of paralysis. And that paralysis will be enough to put you in a wheelchair.

Different: Extent of paralysis

There are various levels of paralysis, which depend on the severity of your spinal cord injury. Some folks have movement above the waist with some or total arm function – these people are paraplegic. Others are paralyzed in the trunk and arms in addition to the legs – these are quadriplegics.

Similar: Wheelchair required

Since both paraplegia and quadriplegia involve paralysis of the legs, both conditions will require you to use a wheelchair.

Different: Level of care needed

Obviously, if you have greater function, you won’t need nearly as much help around the house. So paraplegics could be fairly high-functioning and independent. Some are even able to live on their own. Conversely, quadriplegics are going to require near-constant care.

Similar: Spinal cord injured

Both of these conditions result from traumatic spinal cord injuries. The spinal cord houses the body’s central nervous system, which allows the brain to communicate signals to the limbs. When that system becomes damaged, that inhibits the brain’s ability to communicate with the limbs. This is what causes paralysis.

Different: Area of spinal cord injury

When it comes to spinal cord problems, the lower the better. The spinal cord is made up of many different vertebrae. If you injure the lowest portions of the cord (lumbar and sacral nerves), you may have pretty minor paralysis; you might even be able to walk with braces. But any higher up will result in more extensive paralysis. And once we get to the top section (the cervical nerves), that’s when quadriplegia comes into play.

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