Quadriplegia, also called tetraplegia, represents one of the most catastrophic injuries you can experience. Quadriplegia means you have paralysis in all four of your limbs, although the completeness of the paralysis will vary based on your injury.
You will require substantial resources after you experience a quadriplegia injury. You will likely incur enormous expenses for medical treatment, physical therapy, and assistance with your daily needs.
Below, you will learn about the causes of a quadriplegia injury and the compensation you can seek for one.
How Do Your Nervous System and Spinal Cord Work?
Your brain controls your nervous system. It sends out all of the signals that run your body’s systems. These nerve signals include autonomic signals to handle your involuntary functions like respiration and digestion. These signals also include motor signals to control your voluntary responses, like walking and raising your arms.
Your body sends sensory signals to your brain to tell it about your environment. Your brain collects sensory signals from your skin, eyes, tongue, ears, and nose.
Your brain connects to the spinal cord. The spinal cord carries all of the signals to and from your body.
The spinal cord branches off into nerve roots as it travels along your spine. The nerve roots carry all of the nerves for a region of your body. For example, the nerve root for your right shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers branches off of your spinal cord in your neck.
Nerve roots further branch into peripheral nerves. These nerves connect to specific muscles and organs.
How Does a Quadriplegia Injury Happen?
Quadriplegia happens when the spinal cord gets severed in the neck. Nerves carry signals through a combination of chemistry and electricity. Nerve cells use sodium and potassium ions to communicate with each other. Ions carry an electrical charge. This allows nerves to communicate much faster than relying on chemistry alone.
When nerves get severed, they can no longer carry nerve signals. A severed nerve is like a severed wire. When the nerve gets severed, it cannot carry a signal below the level of the injury.
Quadriplegia injuries take two forms:
In a complete injury, all of the spinal cord nerves get severed. As a result, the accident victim will experience total paralysis with no autonomic or motor signals traveling below the injury site. Similarly, no sensory signals below the injury can reach the brain. A complete injury will paralyze both sides of the body.
Doctors cannot repair a complete injury. Patients with complete injuries will experience total paralysis below the level of the injury for the rest of their lives. When the injury happens in the neck, the paralysis will affect all four limbs. It may also paralyze the diaphragm, bladder, bowel, and sweat glands.
In an incomplete injury, some but not all of the spinal cord nerves get severed. The intact nerves may suffer compression and nerve damage. But they can still carry some signals to the body below the injury site.
When the injury happens in the neck, it still causes quadriplegia, with paralysis affecting all four limbs. But incomplete injuries produce partial paralysis rather than total paralysis.
Partial paralysis can manifest in a few ways, including:
- Affecting one side of the body more than the other side
- Leaving some motor or sensory function in the limbs
- Paralyzing some muscles but not others in the limbs
Doctors cannot fix an incomplete injury. But intense physical therapy can help restore some motor and sensory functions below the injury site. Additionally, the brain can remap the intact nerves in a process called neuroplasticity. This allows the brain to use the remaining nerves to take over some of the functions lost to the injury.
What Are the Effects of Quadriplegia?
You might expect that all quadriplegia injuries produce the same paralysis. But the effects of a spinal cord injury will depend on the location of the injury. If the injury happens lower in the neck, more nerve roots remain intact, and the patient retains more function.
You have seven cervical vertebrae in your neck. The nerve roots that branch from the spinal cord in your neck are numbered C1-C8. C1 branches out above the C1 vertebrae and so on. The C8 nerve root branches out below the C7 vertebrae and is the lowest nerve root in the neck.
Some effects you might experience from an injury at each level include:
An injury to the C1-C3 nerve roots will usually result in death. The nerves that control the diaphragm and other muscles involved in breathing branch from these nerve roots. When these nerve roots get severed, the accident victim will stop breathing and die within a few minutes without emergency ventilation.
Patients who survive an injury to the C1-C3 nerve roots will need a ventilator and feeding tube. The patient will also lack bladder and bowel control. The patient may lack neck control and have no movement below the neck.
A C4 injury is survivable but will still cause paralysis in all four limbs. Patients will likely require breathing support initially, but some will regain the ability to breathe independently.
The patient will likely have control over their neck and may even control their shoulders. But everything below the shoulders, including the bladder and bowel, will suffer paralysis.
A patient with a C5 injury may breathe without a ventilator. The patient often has good neck and shoulder control. The patient may even have limited arm movement, although the fingers and hands will likely suffer paralysis.
As the injury location drops to the C6-C8 nerve roots, the patient will have more function in the arms, hands, and fingers. Strictly speaking, the patient still has a quadriplegia injury because the paralysis affects all four limbs. But the patient will not have total paralysis.
The outcomes improve even more if the patient has an incomplete C6-C8 injury.
What Compensation Can You Recover for a Quadriplegia Injury?
A quadriplegia injury may entitle you to substantial compensation. If your accident resulted from another’s negligence, you could pursue an insurance claim or lawsuit to cover your economic and non-economic losses. These losses include your medical bills, lost wages, and a reduction in your quality of life. Contact or call Stephens Law at (817) 420-7000 for a free consultation to discuss the compensation you can seek for your quadriplegia injury.