What is Paraplegia?

January 29, 2016 | 5:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

It’s always tough when you don’t understand medical terminology, especially when it relates to someone we know. For instance, I would assume some of you are here because you have a friend in a wheelchair, and you’ve never had the courage to ask about what paraplegia is. That’s understandable: many might consider such a question rude. So it’s a good thing you’re here with us now, because we’re going to fill you in.

Paraplegia is the loss of function in two limbs

And these two limbs are almost always the legs. So why did we choose such a strange term for what could also be called “leg paralysis?” Well, although the majority of paraplegic cases involve the loss of function in the legs, that’s not exactly what the term means. The prefix para- is rooted in Greek, and it means beside or alongside something. Therefore, we’ve twisted this meaning slightly to make it applicable to pairs of things.

Therefore, think of para- as referring to two of something; and in the case of paraplegia, that refers to two of your limbs. So paraplegia is literally the loss of feeling in two limbs.

How does some become paraplegic?

Most paraplegia cases happen as the result of traumatic injuries to the spinal cord. The spinal cord contains many different nerve fibers that are vitally important to the central nervous system. If those fibers become too damaged, that’s how loss of feeling occurs. Normally, it’s injuries to the lower part of the spine that result in paraplegia.

What kind of injuries?

The most common cause of paraplegia is motor vehicle accidents. However, it’s possible to become paralyzed as the result of a bad fall (such as the late Christopher Reeve, who was injured in a horseback riding accident), a gunshot wound or even a medical condition (such as MS). In more rare cases, paraplegia can occur as the result of an infection, autoimmune disease or even a tumor alongside the spine.

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