What Is Paralysis?
Paralysis is a loss of muscle function in part of the body.
It can be partial or complete, temporary or permanent, and localized or
generalized. Most patients feel no pain in the paralyzed areas of their bodies.
They also have no control over how those muscles move. Paralysis can affect any
part of the body at any time in a person's life.
Types of Paralysis
There are many paralysis classifications. They describe where paralysis is
located, how severe it is, and how long it will last.
Localized paralysis affect only one part of the body, such
as the face or the hand.
Generalized paralysis is a group of conditions that affect
multiple body parts. Types of generalized paralysis include:
- Monoplegia affects one part of the body.
- Hemiplegia affects an arm and a leg on the same
side of the body.
- Paraplegia affects both legs.
- Quadriplegia, or tetraplegia, affects both arms
and both legs.
Paralysis may be temporary or permanent. Bell's palsy
commonly causes temporary paralysis of the face. Strokes may temporarily paralyze
one side of the body.
Flaccid paralysis involves limp muscles, which makes limbs
weak. Spastic paralysis involves stiff muscles. In spastic paralysis, muscles
may twitch uncontrollably.
What Causes Paralysis?
Some patients are born paralyzed. Others develop paralysis
after an accident or medical condition. Common causes of paralysis include:
- spinal cord injury
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- cerebral palsy
- post-polio syndrome
- traumatic brain injury
- birth defects
A study published in 2004 showed that 29 percent of
paralysis patients become paralyzed from a stroke. The study also showed that
23 percent of patients become paralyzed from spinal cord injuries (Christopher
and Dana Reeve Foundation).
What Are the Symptoms of Paralysis?
The symptoms of paralysis are usually easy to identify. A
patient will lose feeling in a specific or widespread area. Paralysis will make
a muscle difficult or impossible to control. Sometimes tingling or numbing
sensations occur before total paralysis of a limb or muscle.
Diagnosing paralysis is often easy because the loss of
muscle function is obvious. For internal body parts where paralysis is more
difficult to identify, doctors may use X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and other
A patient with a spinal cord injury may go through
myelography. Myelography uses a special dye that is inserted into the nerves in
the spinal cord. The dye makes the nerves clearer on X-rays. Doctors may also perform
an electromyography, which uses sensors to measure electrical activity in the
Treatments for paralysis depend on the underlying cause. Examples
of treatments include:
- mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, braces, mobile
scooters, and other devices
- surgery and amputation
- physical therapy
- medications, such as Botox or muscle relaxers for
patients with spastic paralysis
Paralysis patients may use combinations of the treatments
above to improve their conditions. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported a
breakthrough in paralysis treatment when a 25-year-old regained feeling in part
of his body after undergoing electrical stimulation and intense physical
therapy (Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2011).
Paralysis is not treatable in many cases. In such cases, care
involves helping patients remain independent.
What Is the Outlook for Paralysis?
Many paralysis patients never regain mobility in their
affected area. While there is no cure for many types of paralysis at this time,
technological innovations can help improve a patient’s quality of life. Electronic
mobility devices and special braces keep paralysis patients moving on their
own. Patients may also modify their cars, clothes, and homes to suit their