Quadriplegia, also known as tetraplegia is defined as “paralysis of four limbs”. Quadriplegia is caused by damage to the brain or the spinal cord at a high level (C1 – C7 – in particular). The primary cause of quadriplegia is a spinal cord injury, but other conditions such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and strokes can cause a similar-appearing paralysis. A major spinal cord injury may interfere with breathing as well as with moving the arms and legs. However, a patient with complete quadriplegia has no ability to move any part of the body below the neck; some people do not even have the ability to move the neck.
Most spinal cord injuries are caused by accidents, such as car crashes, falls, and sports injuries. Risk factors that put you at risk for quadriplegia include:
- Jobs or sports activities that increase your chances of spinal injury (high-risk sports, such as football, rugby, diving, ice hockey, and skiing)
- A family history of certain inherited nerve diseases
- History of cancer (which can cause compression of the spinal cord)
Quadriplegia can cause a number of complications, these include:
Bed sores – When you are unable to move for long periods of time, pressure from the weight of the body can cause your skin to break down and develop sores. If you have quadriplegia, you are at greater risk of developing bed sores, because you cannot shift your body weight on your own.
Loss of bladder and bowel control – Because the spinal cord nerves control the function of the bladder and bowels, people with quadriplegia have various degrees of loss of control in this area. Without management, these problems can lead to urinary tract infections and constipation.
Blood clots – When you have quadriplegia, your blood circulation slows down since you are unable to move. This can cause blood clots to develop. Blood clots are not always easy to spot. They can develop deep within the muscle veins (a condition called deep vein thrombosis). An artery in the lungs can also be blocked by a clot (pulmonary embolism). Both of which can be fatal. Blood thinners, support hose, and special inflatable pumps placed on the legs may also be used to increase circulation.
Related injuries – People with quadriplegia may experience injuries such as burns without realizing it (since there is no sensation in the arms and legs).
Respiratory problems – The nerve signals to the diaphragm may be weakened, making breathing on your own difficult or impossible. If your diaphragm is paralyzed, you will be intubated and placed on a ventilator. People with quadriplegia are at increased risk for pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
Chronic Pain – Although people with quadriplegia may not feel external sensations, it is possible to feel pain in your arms, legs, back, and other areas that do not respond to external stimuli. Pain medications prescribed by your doctor can relieve the pain.
Spastic limbs – Some people with quadriplegia experience muscle spasms which cause limbs to jerk. This is a symptom of the damaged spinal cords’ inability to properly relay remaining nerve signals to the brain.
Autonomic dysreflexia – This problem can affect people with spinal cord injuries located above the middle of the chest. This means that irritation or pain below the site of your injury may send a signal which will not reach the brain but will cause a nerve signal that disrupts your body’s functions. As your heart rate drops, your blood pressure may rise, putting you at risk for a stroke.
Immediate treatment of spinal cord injuries includes bracing the spine to keep it from moving and further injuring the spinal cord. Steroids and other medications may be used to lessen damage to nerves and nearby tissue. During this time, patients are often fitted for mobility aids such as wheelchairs. For most quadriplegics, the majority of their recovery happens within the first year.
Case Management is one of the most important steps a family can take in dealing with quadriplegia. Because of the intense nature, many resources, professionals, appointments, accommodations, and decisions are presented to the family. Families can easily become overwhelmed. With a Case Manager next to their side, they will have a professional able to not only make detailed plans but to help ease the burden.
Feinberg Consulting has been helping families with quadriplegia since 1996. Our company understands the challenges and can bring life back to a more manageable normal. Families should be able to focus on what matters most: providing love and support to each other. We can coordinate the care and advocate for you.
Call us at 877.538.5425 to discuss how case management can help you.