The nervous system is one of the most complex and mysterious facets of the human body, and one of the most fragile. As long as everything’s working properly, most people don’t give much thought to their spinal cords, but one tear or rupture in this delicate organ can lead to partial or total paralysis. Making this catastrophic injury life changing.
A 2013 survey published by the American Journal of Public Health found that nearly 5.4 million people in the U.S are living with some level of paralysis, with 41.8% of them unable to work as a result. Paraplegia is the general term for paralysis affecting the lower extremities, while quadriplegia, or tetraplegia, is paralysis that begins higher, affecting the upper extremities as well.
Some “incomplete” spinal injuries leave patients with limited sensation or movement in the paralyzed regions. Other “complete” injuries cut off nerve communication below the injury site entirely. Whatever a person’s level or area of paralysis, a spinal cord injury is one of the most shocking, confusing, and difficult to recover from or adapt to.
Frequent Causes of Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Injuries
While many illnesses and medical events can lead to paraplegia or quadriplegia — including strokes, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal tumors, polio, and Lou Gehrig’s Disease — more than a quarter of paralyses in the U.S are the result of traumatic spinal cord injuries.
According to an article published by the World Journal of Orthopedics, the most common causes of spinal cord injury in the world are:
Within the U.S, we see most of the same major causes, with the notable addition of medical malpractice. Whether our medical malpractice rate is truly higher or simply better recorded than in other parts of the world, a disturbing 4.6% of our spinal cord injuries are the fault of negligent medical practitioners, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistic Center.
Prognosis after a Paralyzing Injury
After a spinal cord injury, a survivor’s most pressing question is often, “Will I walk again?” Unfortunately, there’s rarely a straight, simple answer.
The Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center, which compiles clinical and academic data on spinal cord injuries, notes that there are no guarantees, either good or bad, when it comes to paralysis recovery.
Most survivors, even those with complete injuries, are able to recover some function. However, the more function has been lost, the less likelihood there is of a complete recovery. Most improvements occur within the first year, but as long as a survivor is seeing some improvement, there’s a chance for that improvement to continue.
Living With Paraplegia or Quadriplegia
Whether the effects turn out to be reversible, partially reversible, or completely irreversible, coping with paralysis means drastic lifestyle changes.
Loss of movement and sensation in the lower body obviously interferes with a patient’s mobility, and control of the excretory system may be compromised. Driving may no longer be feasible, or may need to be re-learned with the use of assistive devices. Quadriplegia makes adaptation even more difficult, leaving the survivor with fewer physical options for performing tasks.
Most survivors of spinal cord injuries are eventually able to enjoy relatively normal sexual activity, but will need to become reacquainted with their bodies and may find themselves dealing with new social stigmas and misunderstandings. Fertility can be affected, and women with paralysis face potential complications during pregnancy.
Other secondary effects of paralysis are strictly physical but can be serious and even life-threatening. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation identifies several major categories of secondary physical effects that must be carefully watched for and managed:
Spikes and drops in blood pressure
Bladder and urinary tract infections
Many of these complications arise from a lack of movement throughout the day. Others are related to the lack of nerve signals, which would normally tell the muscles how to behave and alert the patient to any problems before they become severe.
As with any medical condition that causes major life changes, paraplegia and quadriplegia often lead to depression and other emotional side effects. As well as affecting quality of life in their own right, these emotional effects can hinder a survivor’s efforts at physical rehabilitation.
Sometimes the uncertainty of whether paralysis will be permanent can make the adjustment process even more challenging, emotionally and practically. It’s difficult to move on with a new style of living when there’s still hope for physical improvement. At the same time, pursuing improvement can be conflicting and discouraging when each treatment option is a gamble, with no money-back guarantees if the results are underwhelming.
What to Do If You’ve Suffered a Paralyzing Injury in Atlanta
If you or a loved one has already been classified as paraplegic or quadriplegic/tetraplegic after surviving a trauma, chances are you’re already receiving some form of treatment. You might be worrying about where the money will come from, how to make sure you’re receiving the best care, when or whether you’ll be able to return to work, and generally what your future will look like.
One of your first calls should also be to a legal expert like those at the Stoddard Firm. You may spend the rest of your life burdened with additional medical expenses, lost earning potential, and reduced freedom to participate in your favorite activities. Most injuries are avoidable, and if yours was caused by the negligence or malice of someone else, you’re entitled to compensation for your expenses and the damage to your way of life.
Contact us online or at 678-RESULTS to schedule your free consultation.
Tell us about your concern and request a free, no obligation, confidential legal consultation.
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