Quadriplegia: causes, symptoms and treatment

Quadriplegia is a condition caused by injury or disease. Its consequence is the partial or total loss of movement and/or function in all four extremities and torso. It is also known as tetraplegia.

80% of tetraplegia cases affect men. Available data indicate that 50% of total cases fall on people between 18 and 25 years of age. Most commonly, this condition is the result of a traffic accident among the young and a fall among the elderly.

There is currently no cure for quadriplegia.. This type of paralysis affects the quality of life of those who suffer from it and is a risk condition for the development of other health problems. Appropriate treatment can help solve the problem to some extent.

How does the central nervous system work?

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Quadriplegia is a disease that generates a partial or total loss of movement.

Quadriplegia is caused by damage to the brain or spinal cord; i.e. in the central nervous system. This is in charge of regulating the executive functions of the human being which include, among others, muscle tone, motor control, movements, coordination and balance.

The first major component of the central nervous system is the brain. This includes the following:

  • the cerebellum. He is responsible for coordination and balance.
  • The brainstem. Regulates the nerves of the head, face, neck and part of the trunk.
  • Brain. It is responsible for controlling movement, thinking, emotions, personality, behavior, etc.

For his part, The spinal cord is responsible for carrying messages to and from the brain.. It’s inside the vertebrae; these are the bone discs that make up the spine. It is a network that carries incoming and outgoing messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

Why does this happen?

Quadriplegia is caused by damage to the spinal cord or brain. What happens in these cases is that the communication between these two structures breaks down. Therefore, the body cannot process the signals to produce movement.

The damage originates from injury or illness. In case of injury, as a rule, those that occur in the cervical (neck) area tend to be more severe. Most of these injuries are caused by car accidents or falls.

Furthermore, there are some diseases that cause tetraplegia. Among these are cancers, multiple sclerosis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, transverse myelitis, infantile cerebral palsy, spina bifida, stroke, and polio, among others.

main symptoms

In general, the symptoms of quadriplegia are easy to identify. The most obvious manifestation is paralysis on the limbs and torso. Apart from this, there may be other signs like these:

  • Muscle weakness.
  • Absence of voluntary movement.
  • Atrophy.
  • Lack of motor control.
  • Abnormal reflexes.
  • Loss or alteration of sensation.
  • Lack of control in bladder, bowels, breathing and digestion.
  • Impaired sexual function.

Right away, the inactivity caused by quadriplegia often leads to other problems AS pressure ulcerspneumonia, urinary tract infection, weak bones, chronic pain and psychological difficulties.

Types of injuries and tetraplegia

Most commonly, tetraplegia originates from an injury to the cervical spine.. This area includes seven vertebrae identified with the letter “C” and numbered from 1 to 7, from top to bottom. The lesion in each of them causes different effects. We see.

  • Injury in C1 to C3. Corresponds to the vertebrae closest to the skull and those that cause the most serious effects. They almost always generate total paralysis.
  • C4 lesion. They cause severe limitation in the movements of the arms, legs and torso, as well as loss of control of the diaphragm and urinary and faecal incontinence.
  • lesion C5. It usually causes paralysis of the legs, wrists and hands, as well as involvement of the vocal cords.
  • lesion C6. Paralysis in the legs, hands and torso. Incontinence and difficulty speaking.

Injuries to C7 and the lower vertebrae rarely lead to tetraplegia unless there are other complications.

When tetraplegia originates in the brain, usually a consequence of spastic cerebral palsy causing severe muscle weakness. Stroke also generates this type of paralysis, as do some birth accidents.


The most characteristic sign of tetraplegia is loss of motion and sensation in the arms, legs and torso. That motor habit, appreciable in a clinical examinationit is the usual way to diagnose this type of paralysis.

Diagnosis as such is rather oriented towards establishing the cause and level of severity of tetraplegia.. To do this, it is common to order imaging tests to evaluate the condition of the spine and other structures. These tests can be a CT scan or an MRI.

In some cases, a myelogram or nerve conduction study is needed to establish the condition of the muscles and nerves. Furthermore, sometimes a lumbar puncture is used if there is suspicion of other neurological diseases.

treatments available

Knee physiotherapy.
After the diagnosis, the doctor will evaluate the best treatment to follow based on the causes and general condition of the patient.

The treatment to be applied depends on the causes of tetraplegia and the patient’s condition.. It aims to maintain vital functions, regain control of the affected areas and prevent possible complications resulting from inactivity.

Typically, treatment includes a drug component. Medications are given to maintain muscle tone, control neuropathic pain, and, if needed, address anxiety and depression.

Apart from this, usually a program of physical and occupational therapies is started so that the patient can lead a life as active as possible and without risk. The efficacy of stem cell therapy and nerve transfer surgery is currently being evaluated.

Recommended therapies

Most of the treatment of tetraplegia is done through various therapies. The most recommended are the following:

  • kinesiotherapy. Try to keep your muscles strong and active, as well as protect your joints. It allows to improve or recover the functionality of the affected areas.
  • Physiotherapy. Its role is to strengthen the muscle. Furthermore, it allows the patient to learn to control it better and to be more autonomous. It mainly focuses on the arms and hands.
  • respiratory therapy. It allows you to strengthen the muscles associated with the airways and teaches maneuvers and techniques to keep them free.
  • electrostimulation. It is used to restore sensation and treat muscle atrophy.
  • occupational therapy. It allows you to increase motor skills and acquire autonomy.
  • Neuro-psychotherapy. Offers emotional support and helps adopt healthy coping strategies.
  • Others. A toilet training and skin care training program is usually required. There are also training and support courses for healthcare professionals.

Recommendations you can follow

Quadriplegia represents a radical change in the life of the person affected and in that of those around them.. The process of acceptance and adaptation can be very difficult, but it is important to do it in the best way to avoid later difficulties and complications.

New life requires multiple changes and adjustments. Some of the most important are as follows:

  • Use of wheelchair. This will be an essential element and what is appropriate is that it works properly and is of good quality. Ideally, it is the patient himself who chooses the one that best suits his tastes and expectations of him.
  • Changes in decor. It is necessary to rearrange the furniture, in order to facilitate wheelchair mobility. Barriers or elements of risk must be removed. It is better to live on the ground floor and adapt a toilet for the patient.
  • postural care. It is important to prevent the formation of pressure sores. For this it is convenient to use elements such as pillows, ergonomic backrests, etc. Also, be careful that the affected person changes position periodically.
  • catheter inspection. The catheter should be checked regularly to ensure that it is in good condition and thus avoid urinary tract infections.
  • develop new interests. Life will change, but it doesn’t end. A person with quadriplegia can still develop new interests and activities. It’s important to encourage him to do it, but also to give it time.

Family and medical support is essential

Although there is currently no cure for quadriplegia, there are currently several ongoing investigations. It cannot be excluded that partial or total solutions to this condition will emerge in the coming years.

Even without a cure, a person with this condition can improve their condition, sometimes very significantly. if you adhere to the treatment with discipline and perseverance. Psychological help can be decisive for some people.

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