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May also be 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).
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.
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.
Meet Steven. He’s 14 and has spinal muscular atrophy. He shares his struggles and successes in this video.
A teen athlete talks about why he won’t let his condition take him out of the game.
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a condition that causes muscle weakness and atrophy. There’s no cure, but therapy and other treatments can help most people who have SMA.
Wheelchairs are a way for some people to be independent, despite illnesses or injuries. Find out more in this article for kids.
Lots of kids have special needs. Find out more in this article for kids.
Muscular dystrophy is a disorder that weakens a person’s muscles over time. People who have the disease can gradually lose the ability to do everyday tasks.
Cerebral palsy is one of the most common developmental disabilities in the United States. It affects a person’s ability to move and coordinate body movements.
Spina bifida is a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings. It’s usually detected before a baby is born and treated right away.
When kids need intensive health care after they’re discharged from the hospital, it’s important that family and caregivers learn about the devices, equipment, and support they’ll need.
There are many camp choices for kids with special needs. From highly specialized camps to regular camps that accommodate kids with special needs, options abound.
Steven was diagnosed with SMA when he was 3. Here’s a look at his life today and why he says, “When someone tells you you can’t do something, don’t be afraid to try something new.”
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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