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A to Z: Quadriplegia

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Also called: Tetraplegia

Quadriplegia (kwod-ruh-PLEE-juh) is paralysis of both arms and both legs, usually as a result of an injury, disease, or disorder that affects the cervical spine (the part of the spine that’s in the neck).

More to Know

The spinal cord is a long bundle of nerve tissue that extends from the lower part of the brain down through the spine in the middle of the back. It carries messages from the brain to the rest of the body. These messages control things like heartbeat, lung function, food digestion, and movement. If the spinal cord is damaged or severed, the messages can be disrupted, and the body might not be able to perform certain functions.

The spine, which surrounds and protects the spinal cord, is made up of small bones (vertebrae) that are stacked on top of one another. The seven vertebrae in the neck make up the cervical spine. An injury to the cervical spine that damages the spinal cord can result in quadriplegia. This can be due to a fall, car accident, or sports injury. Some diseases and other disorders, such as polio, muscular dystrophy, and cerebral palsy, also can cause quadriplegia.

Some people with quadriplegia may still have some function of the limbs, such as the ability to use their hands. In addition to having limited ability to move their limbs, people with quadriplegia may also have trouble with breathing, digestion, bladder and bowel function, and sexual function. The condition can also make them more susceptible to other conditions like pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, and kidney stones.

Treatment usually consists of stimulating the muscles to increase circulation and retain muscle tone, physical and rehabilitation therapy, treating any complications that might arise, and in some cases reconstructive surgery.

Keep in Mind

Each case and patient with quadriplegia is unique. Although it’s often a permanent condition, depending on the cause, area of the spinal cord affected, and severity, some people can regain partial use of their limbs, especially if the injury was lower in the spine.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.