What Is Quadriplegia?

Disabled man in a wheelchair

Quadriplegia is paralysis caused by illness or injury that results in the partial or total loss of use of all four limbs and torso. The loss usually means that both sensation and control are lost. Muscles may be flaccid or spastic. Paralysis can be either partial, periodic, complete, or incomplete. Paralysis of both the arms and legs has been traditionally called quadriplegia. The quad comes from Latin and means four, and plegia comes from Greek and means the inability to move. The term tetraplegia is becoming more popular, but it means the same thing. Tetra is from Greek and means the inability to move.

What are the causes of Quadriplegia?

Quadriplegia is typically caused by damage or injury to the spinal cord in the neck area (cervical region) and can result in varying degrees of impairment in sensation and motor function. The most common causes of quadriplegia include:

  • Spinal Cord Injury (SCI): Traumatic events such as car accidents, falls, sports injuries, or acts of violence can cause severe damage to the spinal cord, leading to quadriplegia. The injury disrupts the transmission of nerve signals between the brain and the body, resulting in paralysis.
  • Spinal Cord Compression: Conditions that compress or put pressure on the spinal cord can cause quadriplegia. Examples include herniated discs, spinal tumors, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), or infections like abscesses or spinal tuberculosis.
  • Spinal Cord Diseases: Certain diseases can affect the spinal cord, leading to quadriplegia. These include transverse myelitis (inflammation of the spinal cord), spinal cord tumors, multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or spinal cord infarction (blockage of the blood supply to the spinal cord).
  • Congenital Conditions: Some individuals are born with conditions that can cause quadriplegia. Examples include congenital spinal cord abnormalities, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), or certain genetic disorders that affect the spinal cord or motor neurons.
  • Vascular Causes: Interruption of blood supply to the spinal cord due to aortic dissection, arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), or spinal cord ischemia can result in quadriplegia.

It’s important to note that the severity and extent of quadriplegia can vary depending on the location and extent of the spinal cord injury or damage.

3D image of spine

What are the injury levels and effects of Quadriplegia?

Quadriplegia can have varying effects depending on the level of spinal cord injury:

  • C1-C4 Injury: Severe quadriplegia with limited or no limb movement, requiring assistance with all activities, including breathing.
  • C5 Injury: Partial shoulder movement and some control over elbow and wrist movements. Assistance is needed for most activities.
  • C6 Injury: Functional shoulder, arm, and wrist movement. With assistance, individuals can perform self-care tasks and use a manual wheelchair with adaptations.
  • C7-C8 Injury: Improved hand and finger function, allowing for more independent tasks such as grasping objects and using utensils.

Remember that individual experiences and abilities can vary, and rehabilitation plays a vital role in enhancing independence and quality of life.

What is quadriplegia diagram

How is Quadriplegia treated?

Although some quadriplegics experience significant improvements in symptoms and even total cure based on repaired damage, quadriplegia is not curable with treatment, per se. This means that no surgical procedure, drug, or form of therapy can guarantee a return to functioning, and few quadriplegics will ever regain all functioning. Instead, treatment goals include improving the long-term prognosis, reducing immediate threats to life and health, and teaching the brain and spinal cord how to work around the injury. Some treatment options include:

  • Brain and spinal cord surgeries to address obstructions, reduce bleeding, and manage swelling.
  • Medication to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Exercise therapy.

Prognosis for Quadriplegia

For those with severe injury levels, respiratory issues and a higher risk for infection can decrease lifespan. However, many with quadriplegia live full lifespans.

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Mobility for those with Quadriplegia

Most with Quadriplegia require the use of a specialized power wheelchair. Quantum Rehab, the global leader in individualized powerchairs, emphasizes mobility technologies specific to the needs of those with Quadriplegia.

Quantum powerchairs incorporate power-adjustable seating for user repositioning and comfort, speciality drive controls, including those requiring minimal hand strength, and a highly adaptable design to meet an individual’s current and future needs. Quantum powerchairs feature the latest advanced technologies to increase the independence of those living with Quadriplegia.

iLevel seat elevation technology allows users to operate the powerchair seated or standing. Bluetooth is also integrated into Quantum’s Q-Logic 3 electronics, so those with quadriplegia can operate much of their environment with the powerchair drive control. For those with Quadriplegia, Quantum powerchairs are designed to provide optimal medical comfort and maximum independence.


The Quantum Edge 3 with industry-first 4.5 mph at iLevel offers the most advanced powerchair experience. Q6 Powerchair series, which includes the Edge 3 and Q6 Edge 2 powerchairs, provide highly adjustable mid-wheel drive power bases. The Q6 Edge 2 all accept our optional iLevel technology, which offers up to 12 inches of lift at 4.5 mph. The 4Front is a quiet, more responsive front-wheel drive powerchair that features automotive-grade suspension with unprecedented comfort and rides quality.

Related Reading: What Is Muscular Dystrophy?

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