What Is Quadriplegia


The spine is made of many bones called vertebrae. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves running down  through a canal in the center of vertebrae. The function of the spinal cord carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body for sensation and movement. Acute spinal cord injury (SCI) is due to traumatic injury. SCI is a common cause of permanent disability and death in both adults and children.1

Quadriplegia, also known as tetraplegia, is a form of paralysis that affects all four limbs. Most of the people that have paralysis are affected below the neck, and most of them are completely unable to move.2

Quadriplegia can be:2

  • Incomplete quadriplegia: case by partial spinal cord injury and some inherited conditions. In this type, patients have some sensation or function in their arms and legs. This type can improve with treatment
  • Complete quadriplegia: complete loss of control over the arms and legs. The person is unable to move their extremities
  • Spastic quadriplegia:  in this type, the person can not consciously control their arms or legs

Causes of quadriplegia

Damage to the spinal cord - typically in the cervical vertebrae ( C1-C7) is the most commonly  known cause of quadriplegia. The other top causes of spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are:2

  • Auto accidents
  • Falls
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Motorcycle Accidents
  • Diving
  • Surgical and Medical complications
  • Being hit by a flying or falling object
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents
  • Another  potential cause  of quadriplegia is traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and muscular dystrophy are inherited conditions that can cause quadriplegia.2

Signs and symptoms of quadriplegia

The main symptoms of quadriplegia include:2

  • Paralysis of legs, arms, and major muscles in the torso
  • Loss of feeling/numbness  in the body especially  in the arms and legs
  • Difficulty breathing (some patients  require assisted breathing devices) and trouble sitting upright (due to inability to balance)
  • Bowel dysfunction and urinary retention because of lack of muscle control

Management and treatment for quadriplegia

Treatment of quadriplegia depend  on the cause and the site of spinal cord injury. If the cause is trauma, the priority is to limit the damage by immobilizing a person using specialized backboards, braces, or collars to prevent damage to the spinal cord and keep the spinal cord stable. Because of variations  in causes, the healthcare provider is the best person to explain and guide the treatment.3

The goals of quadriplegia therapies include:3

  • Improving the long-term  prognosis
  • Reducing immediate threats to the patient's life and health
  • Teaching the spinal cord and brain how to work around an injury

Some therapy options include:2

  • Spinal cord and brain surgeries to reduce bleeding and  managing  swelling
  • Education about quadriplegia
  • Medication to reduce infection
  • Family education and support
  • Physical therapy to help regain functioning
  • Exercise therapy
  • Psychotherapy to help you deal with the social effects of quadriplegia

Diagnosis of quadriplegia

The diagnosis starts with a physical exam and diagnostic tests. Diagnostic tests include:1

  • Blood tests
  • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan): an imaging test that uses x- rays and computer technology to produce a detailed image of the body
  • Magnetic resonance imaging ( MRI): produces detailed images of structures and organs within the body


How common is quadriplegia

Quadriplegia is the most common symptom of traumatic spinal cord injury, accounting for about 60% of all cases of spinal cord injury:3

How can I prevent quadriplegia

General prevention of spinal cord injury include:4

  • Never drive a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Never move a person who has a suspected spinal cord injury
  • Avoid distractions  while driving
  • Keep a clean home to avoid falls in the home

Who are at risk  of quadriplegia

Some of the risk factors  contribute to the development of quadriplegia include:2

  • Gender: males are more likely to have quadriplegia than females
  • Age: as people age, they become more susceptible to severe spinal cord injury
  • Family health history: conditions like ALS ( a.k.a Lou Gehrig's Disease ) increase the risk of losing control of legs and arms
  • Career choices  such as construction work, police work, and professional athletics in high-contact  sports increase the risk of injury due to accidents , or violence on the job
  • Driving without wearing seat belts and all other risky behavior

What can I expect if I have quadriplegia

Some of the common effects of quadriplegia you expect:2

  • Uncontrolled muscle spasms in arms and legs ( spastic limbs)
  • The development of soreness due to the inability to move or readjust one's position in the bed for long periods
  • Loss of muscle mass ( muscular atrophy) due to inability to move
  • Chronic pain
  • The common effect is uŕinary tract infection due to loss of bladder control makes it difficult to clear the urethra of contaminants
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of fertility / sexual function
  • The common effect in the first few months of injury is a respiratory infection
  • Difficulty with bodily awareness due to loss of sensation

When should I see a doctor

Depending on the severity of the injury, you must go and see your doctor if any problem  becomes worse including numbness, weakness, or changes in bowel or bladder control or other changes in sensation.1

Patients who have serious long-term  effects can develop other complications, and you must see a doctor if you have:1

  • Trouble breathing
  • Fever,cough, other signs of infection
  • Skin sores or infection
  • Severe muscle spasms or cramps
  • Increasing pain
  • Severe headache
  • Not urination


Quadriplegia, also known as tetraplegia, is a form of paralysis that affects all four limbs. Most  people who have paralysis, have it  below the neck, and most of them are completely unable to move. Quadriplegia can be incomplete or complete. The most common cause is damage to the spinal cord, typically cervical vertebrae. The main symptoms are paralysis, and numbness of the legs and arms. According to the type of quadriplegia, health care providers choose the accurate treatment. Quadriplegia can be prevented in many ways. Age, gender, and risky behavior increase the risk of quadriplegia.


  1. Acute spinal cord injury. (2021, August 8). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/acute-spinal-cord-injury
  2. SpinalCord.com. (n.d.). Quadriplegia & tetraplegia: Definition, causes, symptoms, and treatment. Retrieved 6 April 2023, from https://www.spinalcord.com/quadriplegia-tetraplegia
  3. Quadriplegia (Tetraplegia): Definition, causes & types. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved 6 April 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/23974-quadriplegia-tetraplegia
  4. SpinalCord.com. (n.d.). Spinal cord injury prevention | spinalcord. Com. Retrieved 6 April 2023, from https://www.spinalcord.com/spinal-cord-injury-prevention
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Malaz Ameer Ata Almanan

Medical Student - University of Bahri, Khartoum, Sudan

Malaz Ameer Ata Almanan Mohammed. 4th year medical student. Researcher enthusiast. Passionate about ophthalmic surgery. I would like to be ophthalmologist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

my.klarity.health presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818