Paralysis is a condition related to a loss of muscle function that may occur in any part of the body. It can be complete or partial in nature (permanent or temporary). It can also occur in just one specific area of the body (localized), or it can be widespread (generalized). Paralysis may also be associated with loss of touch and other functions. It is a condition that usually occurs after the onset of various illnesses. Paralysis is not regarded as a disease of the muscles, but as a condition that manifests due to a loss of function of the nerves in the spinal cord (their function is to send messages to muscles in order to perform movement).

Causes

Most cases of paralysis occur due to:

Strokes

Spinal cord injuries

Broken neck

 

Other possible causes:

Nerve diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a nervous system disease in which neurons can no longer properly determine the brain’s messages to produce voluntary movements of the muscles

Autoimmune disease such as Guillain-Barre syndrome (the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system)

Multiple sclerosis (myelin, the tissue protecting the nerves and assuring that the brain’s electrical messages are sent to the rest of the body, becomes damaged)

Symptoms and signs

Instances of paralysis are firstly classified into generalized and localized:

Generalized paralysis:

Monoplegia – inability to move a limb

Hemiplegia – inability to move the arm and leg on one side of the body

Paraplegia – paralysis of the lower part of the body – legs, and sometimes the pelvis

Tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia) – inability to move both arms and legs

 

Localized paralysis:

Facial paralysis – usually limited to one side of the face

Paralysis of the hand

Paralysis of the vocal cords – it usually affects just one vocal cord, but it can still affect the patient’s ability to speak and breathe

 

Secondly, instances of paralysis can also be classified according to its temporary or permanent nature:

Bell’s palsy is a relatively common cause of temporary facial paralysis and it usually occurs due to the compressing of the nerves controlling facial movements

 

Thirdly, paralysis can also be classified according to its partial or complete nature:

Partial – the person in question can still retain some muscle function and feeling (cold and heat)

Complete – there is complete loss of function and feeling

 

Paralyses are also grouped into:

Spastic – the muscles in the affected limbs are unusually stiff or exhibit spasms (movements that are not under the coordination of the paralytic)

Flaccid – the muscles in the affected limbs are weak and may shrink in size

 

Cerebral palsy is a disorder of movement, muscle tone and posture that is caused by an injury to the developing brain, before birth

It affects functional abilities variedly, and can be associated with developing intellectual disabilities as well

People with cerebral palsy can also experience epilepsy, blindness and deafness

Advice

Currently, there is no cure for paralysis, the aim of treatment being usually that of accustoming patients with their state and allowing them to achieve a degree of independence as high as possible

Treatments are oriented towards health problems and related complications:

Mobility aids:

Wheelchairs – manual and electric

Orthoses – alternatives to wheelchairs that are designed as braces of either plastic or metal made to improve muscle functionality – wrist-hand, ankle-foot, knee-ankle-foot orthoses

Neuroprostheses are newer types of orthoses that use electrodes to transmit signals to the muscles and coordinate movement

Assistive technology:

Environmental control units that are voice activated and used to control lighting, temperature or the telephone in one’s home

Specially adapted computers that are voice activated, special keyboards that can be controlled via insertion of a device inside the mouth, and cursors that can be controlled via attaching a laser beam device to the head

Alternative medications for neuropathic pain

For aiding breathing:

Negative pressure ventilator – the ventilator creates a vacuum of air surrounding the lung causing the chest to expand and pull in air

Positive pressure ventilator – pushing oxygen directly into the lung

Spasticity and muscle spasms treatments:

Muscle relaxants

Botulinum toxin for blocking the signals from the brain to the affected areas

Intrathecal baclofen therapy – surgically implanting a small pump on the outside of the body, connecting it to the spinal cord, and directing the muscle relaxant (baclofen) on to the affected areas

Aiding bowel movement:

Bowel retraining – aimed at improving the regularity and consistency of the stools

Enemas

Colostomy

MISCONCEPTIONS
  • Quadriplegics are all paralyzed from the neck down

    People suffering from paralysis cannot have families (or a satisfying sexual life)

    Health insurance covers all needs

    Paralytics cannot be athletic

    Their number one dream is to regain mobility

Statistics

Paralysis is more dramatically spread than previously thought – 5,596,000 million people in the U.S.

Spinal cord injury is most prevalent – 1,275,000 million people in the U.S. are living with the condition

The leading causes of paralysis – stroke (29%), spinal cord injury (23%), multiple sclerosis (17%)

Paralysis appears to be disproportionately distributed among some minority communities (African Americans and Native Americans)

People living with paralysis have households with lower incomes – approximately 25% of households with someone who is paralyzed earns less than 10,000 per year

(Data taken from a study initiated by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation* and conducted by the University of New Mexico’s Center for Development and Disability)

Did you know?

The spinal cord is made up of 24 vertebrae in total consisting of:

Seven cervical vertebrae in the neck – measured from C1- C7

Twelve thoracic vertebrae – measured from T1 – T12

Five lumbar vertebrae – measured from L1 – L5

 

The extent of the paralysis depends on the precise location of the injury:

In cases of an C1 – C7 injury – little movement in limbs, possible movement in head and in shoulders, possibly necessitates help when breathing

In cases of an C7 injury – possible extension of paralysis to the elbows, but potential movement of the fingers

In cases of an T2 – T12 injury – fully functional muscles of the upper body, but little or no function in the lower limbs

In cases of an L1 – L5 injury – potential limited movement in hips, feet, knees but may require a mobility aid

 

The Paralympic Games is a major multi-sporting event, organized alongside the Olympic Games involving athletes that display a diverse range of disabilities including impaired muscle power, tone and posture, limb deficiencies, and impaired range of movement

The first Paralympic Games were held in Rome, Italy and featured 400 athletes from 23 countries