Living with Paraplegia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Living with paraplegia presents unique challenges and opportunities for those affected and their loved ones.

what is paraplegia

This comprehensive guide sheds light on the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available for individuals navigating life with paraplegia.

What is paraplegia?

Paraplegia is a condition characterized by the loss of motor and sensory function in the lower half of the body due to spinal cord injury. The spinal cord一a critical component of the central nervous system一becomes damaged, disrupting communication between the brain and the body's lower extremities.

The symptoms of paraplegia vary based on the extent and location of the spinal cord injury. Common paraplegia symptoms include the following:

  • Loss of sensation - the absence of sensation in the lower part of the body.
  • Loss of motor function - inability to walk or stand without assistance and other mobility challenges.
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impaired reflexes
  • Bladder and bowel dysfunction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Respiratory complications and reduced lung function
  • Spasticity or muscle spasms
  • Orthostatic hypotension - a sudden drop in blood pressure upon standing.
  • Pressure sores or bedsores.

These symptoms profoundly impact daily life, necessitating adaptive strategies and specialized care.

What causes paraplegia?

Understanding the underlying causes is essential for effective management and prevention. Here, we delve into the primary triggers of paraplegia:

  1. Traumatic injuries

Motor vehicle accidents, falls from heights, sports injuries, and other traumatic events can damage the spinal cord, leading to paraplegia. The forceful impact or compression of the spine disrupts the nerve pathways responsible for transmitting signals between the brain and lower extremities.

  1. Non-traumatic causes

Diseases and infections: Certain diseases, such as spinal tumors, infections (like meningitis or spinal abscesses), and autoimmune disorders (like transverse myelitis), can affect the spinal cord and cause paraplegia by damaging nerve tissue or impeding blood flow.

Vascular issues: Conditions restricting blood supply to the spinal cord, such as spinal cord infarction, can result in tissue damage and subsequent paraplegia.

Congenital conditions: Some individuals are born with spinal cord or spine structural abnormalities, such as spina bifida or tethered cord syndrome, which can lead to paraplegia over time.

Degenerative conditions: Chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can progressively affect the spinal cord and lead to paraplegia.

Complications of surgery or medical procedures: In rare cases, surgical complications or medical procedures involving the spine can lead to nerve damage and paraplegia.

How is paraplegia diagnosed?

Prompt diagnosis is crucial for effective management of paraplegia. Diagnosing paraplegia involves a thorough clinical evaluation that involves medical history assessment and physical examination.

Your physician may also employ diagnostic procedures to determine the extent of spinal cord damage and the underlying cause. This includes the following:

  • Imaging studies, such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans, to see structural abnormalities that may be causing spinal cord damage.
  • Electromyography (EMG) to identify nerve damage and the severity of impairment.
  • Nerve conduction studies assess the speed and strength of electrical signals as they travel along nerves.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid analysis
  • Blood tests to identify underlying medical conditions or infections that may be causing spinal cord damage.
  • Other diagnostic techniques, such as myelography and angiography.

Furthermore, evaluating the patient's psychological well-being and assessing their functional abilities is crucial for designing a comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation plan.

paraplegia treatment

Accurate diagnosis of paraplegia requires a multidisciplinary approach, often involving a team of medical professionals. The gathered information guides the development of a personalized paraplegia treatment strategy.

Treatment and management of paraplegia

The treatment journey for individuals with paraplegia involves a comprehensive approach to enhance physical function, improve quality of life, and promote independence.

A combination of medical interventions, therapies, and assistive technologies are utilized to address the challenges posed by paraplegia. Let's explore the available treatment options:

Surgical interventions

  • Spinal cord decompression: In cases of traumatic injury or compression, surgical procedures may relieve pressure on the spinal cord and stabilize the spine. This can help prevent further damage and improve function.
  • Fusion and stabilization: Spinal fusion surgeries involve fusing vertebrae together to provide stability and reduce pain. These procedures can address fractures or deformities.
  • Tumor removal: If a tumor is causing paraplegia, surgical removal or reduction of the tumor may be necessary to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord.

Rehabilitation and therapy

  • Physical therapy: Targeted exercises and physical therapy sessions help strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and enhance mobility. Individuals learn techniques to transfer to and from wheelchairs, walk with assistive devices, and perform daily activities.
  • Occupational therapy: Occupational therapists focus on enhancing practical skills required for independent living, including self-care, home management, and vocational training.
  • Aquatic therapy: Water-based exercises in a controlled environment can help improve mobility, reduce muscle spasms, and enhance overall physical function.
  • Robot-assisted therapy: Robotic devices can assist individuals in performing repetitive movements to regain muscle strength and coordination.

Assistive devices and adaptive technologies

  • Wheelchairs: Customized wheelchairs provide mobility and independence. Powered wheelchairs can be operated using joysticks or switches, while manual wheelchairs offer self-propelled options.
  • Orthotic braces and splints: These devices support weakened muscles and promote proper alignment of joints, aiding in stability and mobility.
  • Functional electrical stimulation (FES): FES devices use electrical currents to stimulate nerves and muscles, helping individuals with paraplegia regain functional movement.
  • Exoskeletons: These wearable robotic devices enable individuals to stand, walk, and perform tasks with mechanical assistance. Exoskeletons contribute to physical and psychological well-being by restoring mobility.
  • Canes, crutches, and walkers: These aids provide additional support for individuals who can partially bear weight on their legs, helping them maintain balance and mobility.

Psychological and emotional support

  • Counseling and therapy: Mental health professionals offer support to cope with emotional challenges, such as depression, anxiety, and body image issues. Psychological counseling enhances resilience and promotes a positive mindset.
  • Peer support groups: Interacting with others who share similar experiences fosters a sense of community, provides encouragement, and offers practical advice for adapting to life with paraplegia.

Medication management

Pain relief medications or interventions may be recommended to alleviate discomfort associated with paraplegia or related conditions. Additionally, medications that can help control muscle spasms and spasticity may be prescribed to improve comfort and mobility.

Where to find the best spinal cord injury rehab?

Are you or a loved one seeking the finest care and rehabilitation following a spinal cord injury or neurological condition?

management of Paraplegia

NeuLife Rehab is the premier destination for comprehensive and cutting-edge rehabilitation services. Our modern and fully-equipped facility is designed to provide an optimal healing environment.

From advanced rehabilitation equipment to comfortable accommodations, every detail is meticulously crafted to enhance your recovery journey. Some of the programs we provide include:

Contact us at 352-660-1411 to learn more about how our world-class spinal cord injury rehab program can empower you to overcome challenges and embrace life to the fullest.

Your path to recovery begins here!


The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.


Dedicated to providing the highest caliber of care to individuals with brain injuries, NeuLife Rehabilitation is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
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