Understanding Paralysis: Causes, Diagnoses, and Treatment

Understanding Paralysis: Causes, Diagnoses, and TreatmentWhen an injury disrupts nerve signals to muscles, it can cause paralysis. The functioning nerves in your body send signals to your muscles. Those signals are what make muscles move. For example, if you touch a hot stove, the nerves in your skin send a message of pain to your brain. Next, the brain sends a message back telling the muscles in your hand to pull away. When the nerves are damaged, those signals cannot be sent or received.

Approximately one in every 50 Americans are diagnosed with some form of paralysis. Paralysis is a complete or a partial loss of function and, depending on the site of injury, it can affect literally all parts of the body. The Mississippi personal injury attorneys at Merkel & Cocke, P.A. discuss paralysis in today’s blog.

Degrees of severity of paralysis

While some people may experience temporary paralysis and eventually regain partial or full movement over time, others may have permanent paralysis, which, as the name implies, means the patient will not recover from their injuries.

With partial paralysis, you may regain control of some muscles but not all of them. On the other hand, with complete paralysis, you have no control whatsoever over any muscles. Also, based on the place of injury in the nervous system, paralysis can be separated into two types. Flaccid means that muscles get “flabby” and shrink, while spastic means that muscles tighten, causing uncontrollable jerks and spasms.

Patterns of muscle paralysis and impacted organs

Localized paralysis means that a small section of the body is affected. but is most commonly the face, hands, feet, or vocal cords. Generalized paralysis means that a larger area of the body is affected and is based on the extent of paralysis:

  • Diplegia: in the same area on both sides of the body (both arms, both legs, or both sides of the face)
  • Hemiplegia: one side of the body (an arm and a leg on the same side)
  • Monoplegia: one limb is immobile (arm or leg)
  • Paraplegia: both legs and sometimes the torso
  • Quadriplegia: all limbs (may have little to no movement anywhere below the neck area)

Common causes of paralysis

The top causes of paralysis are strokes and spinal cord injuries. Other causes include a problem in the nervous system. This is considered the communication system in your body since it sends signals from the brain throughout your body, telling it what to do in certain situations. Therefore, if something damages the nervous system, those messages can’t get through to the muscles.

Other common causes of paralysis include birth defects such as spina bifida, a traumatic injury or medical condition that damages muscle and nerve function, nerve disorders such as Bell’s palsy (temporary facial paralysis), brain injury conditions such as cerebral palsy, neurological diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Symptoms of paralysis

Symptoms of paralysis include partial or entire immobility of the affected parts of your body with a loss of sensation, depending on the injury location. For example, strokes and spinal cord injuries cause sudden paralysis to occur.

However, some conditions may cause you to experience gradual paralysis. These symptoms can include a sudden loss of feeling and muscle control, muscle cramps or weakness that persists or comes and go, and a tingling or numbness in your limbs.

Diagnosing paralysis

Physicians and specialists may diagnose paralysis through a variety of tests:

  • X-rays: broken bones that may cause any nerve injury
  • Imaging tests (CT scan or MRI): signs of stroke, brain injury, or spinal cord injury
  • Myelogram: spinal cord and nerve injuries
  • Electromyogram (EMG) tests: nerves and muscles and their electrical activity
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture) tests: spinal fluid for infection, inflammation, and disorders such as multiple sclerosis (MS)

Ultimately, paralysis can affect nearly any and every part of the body.  Depending on the type of paralysis, you may be at risk for breathing, speaking, swallowing, heart, or sexual problems. Additionally, you could be at risk for developing pneumonia, blood clots, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), depression, anxiety, high or low blood pressure, urinary incontinence, loss of bowel control, pressure injuries (bedsores), and sepsis.

Management and treatment of paralysis

Along with recommended rehabilitation services, the following may help people with paralysis live more independently:

  • Adaptive equipment used to help with feeding and driving
  • Assistive equipment like wheelchairs, scooters, crutches, and canes
  • Orthotic/prosthetic devices and braces
  • Voice-activated technology for computers, lighting systems, and smartphones

Although there isn’t a cure for paralysis, occupational, speech, and physical therapy can improve function, ultimately helping patients enjoy a better quality of life.

Ways to prevent paralysis

Since spinal injuries are a leading cause of paralysis, you can lower your chances of such injury by taking the following precautions:

  • Always wear a seatbelt when in a moving vehicle.
  • Do not drive while under the influence or be the passenger of someone who is.
  • When taking part in sports or activities, wear the appropriate protective gear.
  • Never move someone who may have a head, neck, or spinal injury. Immediately call 911, and leave it to the professionals.

What is the outlook for people living with paralysis?

Although learning to live with such a complication can be physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging, over time, and with therapy, patients with paralysis can adapt to a new way of living.

Although many people need lifelong help from others, many people with paralysis go on to lead happy, independent lives because, despite their body not being in the best condition, their minds can still be.

The attorneys at Merkel & Cocke, P.A. offer strategic legal counsel if you have suffered paralysis from a vehicle accident, worksite accident, medical malpractice, or any other cause. We are here for you in Mississippi if you need us. Call us today at 662-627-9641, or schedule a free consultation by completing our contact form. We operate offices in Jackson, Clarksdale, Greenville, and Oxford.