Severe spinal cord injuries or traumatic brain injuries can affect those who survive them in many ways. A common issue for survivors is suffering from some form of paralysis.

There are several forms of paralysis, but in this guide we focus on two types that often occur as a result of a spinal cord injury – paraplegia and quadriplegia.

Below you will find out about both types of paralysis, what they mean, the difference between them and treatment options.


What does paraplegic mean and what is a paraplegic injury?

Sometimes referred to as partial paralysis, paraplegia is a type of paralysis that affects the functioning of both legs.

While the legs themselves may be not be damaged, the cause of paraplegia will reside in either the brain or spinal cord, which make up the body’s central nervous system. When an injury occurs in these areas, damage can be significant. In some cases, signals can no longer be sent or received from the lower body, which results in a loss of function in that area.

In most cases of paraplegia, the condition is caused by injuries to the thoracic, lumbar and sacral sections of the spinal cord.

Paraplegia is also a variable condition, meaning symptoms may change over time, or even alter from one day to the next. Symptoms experienced by someone with a paraplegic spinal injury include:

  • Limited mobility
  • Chronic pain
  • Reduced bladder and bowel function
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of sexual function
  • Loss of muscle tone in the legs
  • Weight gain.

An individual with paraplegia can often live independently and complete everyday tasks such as eating and dressing without assistance.


What does quadriplegic mean and what is a quadriplegic injury?

A quadriplegic injury, also known as a tetraplegic injury, is a form of paralysis that affects all four limbs.

The primary cause of quadriplegia is spinal cord injury, specifically when the injury site is located in the neck area, known as a cervical spinal injury.

However, other conditions such as cerebral palsy or a stroke can also be the cause of quadriplegia.

As it is a condition that affects the body from the neck down, it can significantly reduce a person’s independence and quality of life. Someone who has quadriplegic paralysis may experience:

  • Limited or complete absence of arm and hand function
  • Problems speaking, swallowing, or breathing without assistance
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks, such as bathing, dressing, and eating
  • Muscle loss in many parts of the body
  • Loss of bone density.

People suffering from a quadriplegic injury are often reliant on carers or family and friends.


What is the difference between paraplegic and quadriplegic injuries?

Both paraplegia and quadriplegia are conditions typically caused by spinal injuries or brain injuries.

The main difference between them is that:

  • Paraplegia is paralysis of the legs.
  • Quadriplegia is paralysis of the legs and arms.

As quadriplegics will be unable to control their arms, this is considered to be the more severe condition.


What are some examples of paraplegic and quadriplegic accidents?

The leading cause of paralysis is spinal injury. Traumatic spinal injuries are most common – this is when the injury is caused by impact damage.

Some examples of accidents which can cause paraplegia or quadriplegia include:

Spinal injuries can also be caused or exacerbated by medical negligence.

However, accidents are not the only cause of paralysis. Some people may suffer from paralysis as a result of a disease or genetic anomaly, such as autoimmune disorders and infections of the brain or spinal cord.


Can you treat paraplegic or quadriplegic injuries?

Unfortunately, paralysis is incurable, but some treatments can help people regain control or independence over time.

Rehabilitation is essential to help aid recovery for those suffering with either a paraplegic or quadriplegic injury. Rehabilitation can include:

  • Physical therapy, which focuses on regaining muscle function and strength and reducing pain
  • Occupational therapy, which helps patients perform tasks essential to their daily lives
  • Speech therapy, which helps rebuild the ability to speak.

Surgery might be an option for those suffering with pressure ulcers, muscle damage or chronic pain, and medication can help to help lower the risk of infection, reduce nerve inflammation and prevent blood clots.



At Thompsons, we have acted for injured people (and never insurers) for over 100 years. We understand how learning to live with paralysis can be a long and difficult process – for the injured and their loved ones. If you have been paralysed and someone else is at fault, we can help you claim the compensation you need to support your recovery. We will also connect you with support groups, charities, rehabilitation services and help with any adaptations that might be needed to your home or car.

To make a serious injury claim, please fill in our online claim form or call our serious injuries experts on 0800 0 224 224.