Quadriplegia is a condition of paralysis in which a person loses complete or partial use of all limbs and the torso. Also known as tetraplegia, this type of paralysis involves sensory and motor loss, which means that the victim has lost both sensation and control. Quadriplegia occurs when the brain, neck, or spinal cord is severely damaged, but it can also be the result of certain illnesses, including cancer, osteoporosis, and Multiple Sclerosis.

More than 250,000 Americans have suffered debilitating spinal cord injuries, with 52 percent of them being paraplegic and 47 percent being quadriplegic. Each year, more than 11,000 people suffer spinal cord injuries that leave them paraplegic or quadriplegic, of which 82 percent are male, and 56 percent of these injuries are suffered by people ages 16 through 30. The average age of a person who suffers this spinal injury is 31 years old.

There are eight classifications of quadriplegia in relation to spinal cord injuries, graded C-1 through C-8 and based on the impacted and affected vertebrae.

C-1, C-2, and C-3: These classifications each involve limited head and neck movement based on the muscle strength of each individual, and the person will suffer complete paralysis of the body, legs, and arms. The victim will require assistance in every detail of his daily life, from eating and drinking to changing clothes and getting into bed. Regular travel would be conducted in an electric wheelchair that would be controlled by either a chin control, depending on the neck and head strength, or a breathing straw. The person will require assistance in breathing through a respirator or ventilator, as well as with coughing and clearing blockages of the throat. Speech impairments will require the use of a computer.

C-4: This classification is almost entirely similar to a C-1, C-2, or C-3 injury, in that the victim will require assistance in all daily activities, including washing, dressing, bathroom use, travel, and eating and drinking. The victim also uses a motorized wheelchair that is powered by either chin movement, depending on the muscle strength for head and neck movement, or a breathing straw apparatus. However, the difference between a C-4 injury and a C-1, 2, or 3 is the person will have control of his or her own breathing with a C-4.

C-5: With this spinal injury, the victim maintains head and neck movement, as well as partial shoulder movement depending on the upper body strength of the individual. The body and legs are completely paralyzed, and the wrists and fingers will have no movement, however there will be flexing ability in the elbows and hands. This leaves open the possibility for feeding oneself and controlling menial tasks such as brushing teeth or shaving, with the assistance of special straps. Breathing is done without a ventilator, however all regular daily activities will still require assistance.

C-6: The C-6 injury mirrors most of the aspects of the C-5 injury, including good head, neck, and shoulder strength, however the difference is that the C-6 injury allows additional voluntary wrist and elbow movement. With this injury, the victim can complete some tasks through assistance, such as shaving, brushing teeth, and eating, but can also handled some partial dressing duties. However, all other daily routines require complete assistance.

C-7 and C-8: With these specific injuries, the victim will have no body and leg movement, but good head, neck, and shoulder movement, as well as full elbow and wrist use, and partial finger movement. The person will need partial assistance with most routine activities depending on physical strength and volume of hand and arm movement. Wheelchair travel is a bit easier and with the proper equipment, a C-7 or C-8 victim can even operate a motor vehicle. The main difference between C-7 and C-8 injuries is that C-7 injuries most often allow the use of the thumb.

Quadriplegia can also be caused by damages to the thoracic nerve segments (T1-T10), lumbar nerves (L1-L5), and sacral nerves (S1-S5).


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