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what is paraplegia?

Content is medically reviewed by:

Shruti Bangera, Masters In Neurological Physiotherapy, Senior Physiotherapist & SME, Portea

Paraplegia definition: The medical condition where the person experiences loss of feeling or movement in the lower half of the body is known as paraplegia. It is also described as a spinal cord injury or partial paralysis in which the functions of the body waist down are impaired. Injury or disease caused to the spinal cord or brain or both are amongst the primary paraplegia causes.

When paraplegia strikes, the brain or spinal cord is unable to send or receive signals to the lower half of the body. Due to this, paraplegics cannot move their body parts below the waist but lose sensation in that area too. At times there is a tingling feeling too in the legs and feet. As a result of some injuries, temporary paralysis in one or both legs can also be caused. It will take a doctor anything between a few hours to a couple of days to diagnose the patient’s condition accurately.

There are two types of paraplegia, complete and incomplete. When the injury impacts a person neurologically and affects limb and body movements, complete paraplegia is said to have occurred. In case of incomplete paraplegia, the person is able to move the limbs to a certain extent.

what are the causes of paraplegia?

Since paraplegia is a problem related to the brain or the spinal cord, most patients have perfectly normal legs. The spinal cord is instrumental in sending signals to and from the body to the brain. The brain then processes this information, makes sense of it and relays it back through the spinal cord to the body. Therefore it is important for the brain and the spinal cord to work properly individually and in conjunction with each other.

The following are the main paraplegia causes that are related to damage to the spinal cord:

  • Vehicle-related road accidents
  • Injuries due to falls
  • Sports accidents and injuries with diving being the most common
  • Crime-related violence like shooting or getting beaten up
  • Surgical or medical injuries

A large number of brain and spinal cord injuries are traumatic (due to sudden impact on the area) and happen during an accident. However, certain injuries can also be non-traumatic like diseases or hereditary abnormalities. A few other paraplegia causes are:

  • Spinal cord disorders
  • Genetic disorders like hereditary spastic paraplegia
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Stroke
  • Spinal cord or brain infections
  • Cancer or tumour of the brain or spinal cord
  • Loss of oxygen to the brain or spinal cord due to birthing problems or choking

the effects of paraplegia on the body

Paraplegia is a dynamic condition where the patient can experience symptoms that vary over a period of time and change every day. Through sustained paraplegia treatment, it is possible to arrest the progress of the condition, but its outcome can vary from person to person. While some person can recover quickly, others may need time to lead a normal life. In any case, through the right paraplegia diagnosis, it is possible to reverse or reduce paraplegia symptoms, and your doctor can help you during this challenging time. Paraplegia can affect the body in the following ways:

  • Reduced or complete loss of mobility waist down
  • Loss of sensation near the injury site
  • Decrease or loss of sexual appetite, fertility or libido
  • Depression or frequent mood swings, especially immediately after paraplegia diagnosis
  • Electrical sensations, unexplained pain or phantom sensations in the lower portion of the body
  • Involuntary or difficult bladder and/or bowel movements
  • Chronic pain
  • Lesions or infections at the injury site
  • Bedsores and skin-related issues
  • Weight gain is a common outcome of paraplegia, especially since physical activity is reduced and diet hasn’t been modified accordingly.

which are the tests carried out to help in accurate paraplegia diagnosis?

Before beginning with paraplegia treatment, the doctor is likely to carry out the following test to diagnose paraplegia:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination
  • MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging) through which images of the head and spine are taken
  • CT scan to check if the head or spine has suffered any injuries
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Myelography- An x-ray that is used to see the spinal cord clearly by injecting a contrast medium into the body
  • Lumbar puncture: This is done by obtaining a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the lower back.
  • Evoked potential nerve test: This carried out to assess nerve pathways

Treatment steps taken to help in the cure for paraplegia

The patient is taken to the hospital or emergency room if there is a physical injury involved. Emergency procedures may be needed to prevent further damage to the nervous system. In order to reduce the swelling in the spinal cord, steroids can be administered, and surgery is also carried out in order to stabilise the spine. If a tumour is the cause, surgery is carried out, and radiation therapy is done. Through physical therapy and rehabilitation, it is possible to regain strength and muscle functions can be improved.

when do you need us?

Since we are the pioneers of paraplegia treatment at home, we can provide the best care needed after paraplegia strikes. Through carefully designed exercises, we ensure that the patient regains mobility at the earliest. You will receive a treatment plan that will be developed after evaluating your condition and assessing the need for the right paraplegia physiotherapy sessions in the comfort of your home. Our expert physiotherapists will ensure that every movement during the exercise sessions is carried out under their careful supervision.

how we can help on recovering paraplegia?

Our expertise in paraplegia physical therapy and rehabilitation helps in restoring physical strength, muscle function and motion range. We will design a range of exercises that will ensure maximum output from every paraplegia physiotherapy session and the road to recovery becomes a journey that we traverse together. The muscles around the spine are strengthened, and the blood flow is enhanced too. Our physiotherapists play a critical role in making sure that body movement is done in the right way and no further complications arise.

Conclusion: Although the patient may have to make certain alterations to his current lifestyle post the surgery or trauma, paraplegia is completely treatable, especially with the support of medical professionals like doctors and physiotherapists.

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