What is the Difference Between Paraplegia and Quadraplegia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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Paraplegia and quadriplegia are both serious conditions which involve partial paralysis of the body. In the case of paraplegia, the patient is paralyzed from the waist down, while a quadriplegic has paralysis which affects the body from the neck down. The paralysis is caused by an injury to the spinal cord, and it may be partial or total, depending on the nature of the injury and how it was treated. American President Franklin D. Roosevelt is a well-known example of a paraplegic; scientist Steven Hawking is a quadriplegic.

Three things can lead to paraplegia or quadriplegia: disease, trauma, and congenital diseases. A paraplegic has a spinal cord injury in the lower spine, which causes loss of feeling and mobility in the legs and lower trunk; in many cases, paraplegics have problems with the internal organs in their lower bodies, such as their bladders. A quadriplegic has a higher spinal injury, usually in the cervical spine, and in addition to limited mobility in the arms and legs, he or she may have a number of problems related to lack of control over the internal organs.


Diseases like poliomyelitis, syphilis, Lou Gehrig's disease, and multiple sclerosis have all been linked to complete or partial paralysis. Trauma such as a gunshot wound or heavy fall can also damage the spinal cord, while congenital conditions such as spina bifida cause problems from birth. In all instances, the sooner the problem is diagnosed, the better the prognosis for the patient. Paraplegia and quadriplegia cannot be cured, but treatment can slow and reduce the extent of the damage to the spinal cord, allowing the patient more mobility.

A totally paralyzed paraplegic cannot move the legs at all, and has no sensation. Partial paralysis may allow a paraplegic to move the toes or legs, but usually only with great difficulty. In the case of quadriplegics, also known as tetraplegics, partial paralysis is much more common, because total paralysis would mean that the patient's internal organs could not function, requiring extensive supportive care from medical devices.

Being a quadriplegic or paraplegic can be challenging. The paralysis puts the patient at risk for a range of health problems, including fractures, pneumonia, infections, bed sores, and cardiovascular problems. Supportive care may be required, especially for quadriplegics. However, many people with paralysis live very fulfilling and sometimes active lives; both quadriplegics and paraplegics can compete in the Paralympics, for example, and some paraplegics enjoy activities such as extreme wheelchair sports and para-equestrian sport.


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Post 6

As a paraplegic, I can tell you that it's actually mind boggling how different we all are. In the rehab I was in, there were paraplegics and quads/tetraplegics. The way the spinal cord has been damaged is absolutely why people can walk and use their arms, even if they are quadraplegic.

The Quads are generally people who have neck/cervical area of the spine problems. Just because some can walk doesn't mean that they can feel in that area, which just goes to show how amazing the human body is at adapting.

I can move my legs to my knees, but interestingly, one leg is stronger than the other in movement, and in the other leg I can feel touch all

the way down to my ankle. The big misunderstanding though is that you can still feel your legs/arms internally when paralyzed; often neuropathic pain is like pins and needles. When I had my accident, I knew that I had damaged my spinal cord because I knew where my legs were, but I couldn't feel them when people were touching them. It's a crazy world.

Also, the majority of sufferers are unable to control body organs such as the bladder and the bowel. It is not as simple as saying that all can't control them, but due to the way the body works, the bladder and bowel are no longer able to properly communicate with the brain, no matter where the level of injury is.

It's not surprising that the character on the TV show fathered children, since most paraplegics remain as fertile as they were prior to the accident, and the majority of quadraplegics are also fertile.

Post 5

@Crispety - I hope they find a cure for this condition so more people affected with this condition could experience the joy of walking again. I always tell my children when they get tired of walking at an amusement park that a person in a wheel chair would give anything to be able to walk again and they usually put their discomfort in perspective and never complain again.

I remember when the actor Christopher Reeve became a quadriplegic because he fell off of a horse. He and his wife did a lot to draw attention to the cause and he probably made a lot of people feel like they were not alone in their struggles.

Too bad that he passed away because I think he became even more famous for working with paralysis research than for his movie roles as Superman. He probably brought a lot of comfort to people when he spoke publicly about his condition.

Post 4

@Moldova -I think that you are right. They say that adversity builds character and a lot of people do great things and get involved in fundraising efforts in order to find a cure when they become paralyzed like this.

It really does add another dimension to your character. I remember hearing about a man that was run over by a truck and lost both of his legs as a result. He had been a marathon runner and said that he wanted to resume running again although the doctors told him that he would never walk again.

Well a year later with the help of two prosthetic legs he was able to run in a 5k race. It was amazing to see on television. I bet he has more determination now as a result of the accident and knows that there is nothing that he can't do. So a lot of people actually become stronger because of their injury.

Post 3

@Rugbygirl -I wonder if people that receive a paraplegic injury also go to counseling because it must be psychologically very difficult for some to accept the loss of mobility from their waist down which is really how you define a paraplegic.

I think that this should be a part of the paraplegic rehabilitation because the progress during the paraplegic's rehab has a lot to do with their state of mind. When you are depressed you really don’t feel like doing anything and I would imagine that the paraplegic would experience bouts of depression that can impair their progress.

However, I have also heard that some people emerge stronger than ever because they view life a different way. They tend to appreciate things more and are more genuinely fulfilled.

Post 2

@Kat919 - I didn't know that, either! I guess that makes sense, because I read about a person who was technically a quadriplegic, but could actually walk and run! (His was a very unusual injury.)

I studied Latin in high school and always think that word origins are interesting. Paraplegic, by definition, should mean that exactly half your body is affected, and quadriplegic should mean that all four limbs are affected. So the way the injuries are defined medically, by the placement of the injury, is really different from the origin of the words.

Post 1

I had always thought that quadriplegic (or tetraplegic) simply meant that all four of your limbs were paralyzed. I actually learned otherwise from a TV show! A character had a spinal cord injury and became a quadriplegic, but he still had good use of one arm and some use of the other (and fathered a child). Apparently that's not impossible; it's not about the degree of your immobility, but the placement of your injury.

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