A spinal cord injury is damage to any part of your spinal cord or nerve endings of the spinal canal (also called cauda equina) that can lead to permanent changes in sensation, strength, and other body functions in and around the site of injury.
Paraplegia is a spinal cord injury that affects your lower limbs. It occurs due to severe damage to your spinal cord and nervous system, resulting in loss of movement. It is characterised by partial paralysis in which the functions of the body waist-down are impaired.
In Paraplegia, your brain or spinal cord is unable to function and lose sensation in that area too. There are two types of Paraplegia - complete and incomplete. When the injury impacts a person neurologically and completely affects body movements, it is called complete paraplegia. Whereas in the case of incomplete paraplegia, you may be able to move your limbs to a certain extent.
How is Paraplegia Caused?
The following are the main paraplegia causes that are related to damage to the spinal cord:
- Vehicle-related road accidents
- Injuries due to falls
- Sports accidents and injuries with diving being the most common
- Crime-related violence like shooting or getting beaten up
- Surgical or medical injuries
Certain injuries can also be non-traumatic like diseases or hereditary abnormalities. A few other paraplegia causes are:
- Spinal cord disorders
- Genetic disorders like hereditary spastic paraplegia
- Autoimmune disorders
- Spinal cord or brain infections
- Cancer or tumour of the brain or spinal cord
- Loss of oxygen to the brain or spinal cord due to birthing problems or choking
What Are the Symptoms of Paraplegia?
- Inability to feel and move
- No control over bowel and bladder activities
- Intense pain or tingling sensation in the trunk, legs, and the pelvic region
- Difficulty breathing and coughing
- Sexual function and fertility can be affected
How Can Paraplegia Affect Your Body?
Paraplegia is a dynamic condition where your symptoms may vary over a period of time. While some people can recover quickly, others may need time to lead a normal life. Paraplegia can affect the body in the following ways:
- Reduced or complete loss of mobility waist down
- Loss of sensation where the injury has occurred
- Decrease libido and loss of sexual appetite
- Depression or frequent mood swings
- Electrical sensations, unexplained pain or phantom sensations in the lower portion of the body
- Involuntary bladder and/or bowel movements
- Chronic pain
- Lesions or infections at the injury site
- Bedsores and skin-related issues
- Weight gain is a common outcome of paraplegia, especially since physical activity is reduced and diet hasn’t been modified accordingly
How Can Paraplegia Be Treated?
Every patient is different, and treatment options are different for each person. Generally speaking, intensive treatment gives you the best chance at recovery, particularly when you begin receiving treatment immediately after the injury.
Some treatment options include:
- Surgery to treat swelling, remove lesions, or remove embedded objects.
- Spinal cord alignment surgery.
- Secondary surgeries to treat muscle injuries.
- Medications to reduce your risk of infection and blood clots.
- Physical therapy to help you regain as much function as possible.
- Exercise to help you remain in good physical shape and reduce chronic pain.
- Psychotherapy to help you adopt new coping skills.
- Education about your injuries, advocacy programs, and family support groups.
- Occupational training and therapy to help you learn new skills and regain old ones.
- Alternative modalities; only after consultation with your doctor.