What Is the Difference Between Paraplegia and Tetraplegia?

Paraplegia is a paralysis starting in the thoracic (T1-T12), lumbar (L1-L5) or sacral (S1-S5) area, while tetraplegia is caused by damage in the cervical area (C1-C8). Persons with paraplegia possess good functioning of the arms and hands. The lesion occurs primarily in the trunk and legs. In comparison persons with tetraplegia additionally experience paralysis of the hands and partially of the arms.

In an initial clinical examination, the physician can locate the injury using x-rays or computer tomography (CT). While this technology makes the damage to the vertebrae visible, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can show the damage to the spinal marrow. The lesion height is defined by the last fully functioning segment of the spinal marrow. Tetraplegia "sub C6", for example, means that the marrow segments C1 to C6 are fully functioning whereas the segment C7 and below are affected.

Literature

  • Chin LS, Mesfin FB, Dawodu ST. Spinal cord injuries: Practice essentials, background, anatomy,  pathophysiology, etiology, epidemiology, prognosis, patient education. [Internet] 10 August 2017. Available from: http://www.emedicine.com/pmr/topic182.htm. Accessed March 2018.
  • Swiss Paraplegic Research. Community. [Wiki/Body & complications]. Spinal cord injury - What does this mean?  Basic knowledge about the injured body. [Internet] March 2018. Available from: https://community.paraplegie.ch/. Accessed March 2018.
  • Shepherd Center. Understanding spinal cord injury: What you should know about spinal cord injury and recovery. 2018. [Internet]  Available from: http://www.spinalinjury101.org/details/levels-of-injury. Accessed March 2018.

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