Quadriplegia, also called tetraplegia, causes paralysis and loss of sensation in all four limbs. This injury produces permanent disabilities that require a lifetime of medical treatment and physical therapy. After this nerve injury, you might be unable to work and may need a caretaker to help you with your daily tasks like dressing, showering, and using the toilet.
You can suffer quadriplegia in almost any type of accident. But car accidents and falls are two of the most common causes of traumatic quadriplegia injuries because they can stress the neck in exactly the way needed to damage the spinal cord. If you have a personal injury case Marzzacco Niven & Associates is here to help you, contact us or call (717) 231-1640 for a free consultation.
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Spinal Cord Anatomy and Function
Your brain controls your nervous system. It gathers sensory information from your skin, eyes, ears, and other senses. It then uses this information to decide how to control your body.
Nerves also carry the signals running into and out of your brain. The cranial nerves carry signals to your head, face, and upper neck, while the spinal cord carries signals to your body.
The spinal cord contains 31 pairs of spinal nerves. Each spinal nerve pair contains one nerve running to your right side and another nerve running to your left side. These nerves carry sensory signals from your body to your brain and control signals from your brain to your body.
The location where the spinal nerve pair exits the spine determines the region under its control. Thus, the spinal nerves responsible for your shoulders exit the spine in your neck, while spinal nerves that exit in your lower back innervate your legs.
Nerves transmit signals using a combination of electric charges and chemical neurotransmitters. When nerves get severed, the signals cannot jump the gap and can get lost. This means that your body below the injury cannot send sensory signals to the brain or receive motor signals from it.
How Does a Quadriplegia Injury Happen?
Quadriplegia injuries happen when the spinal cord gets severed in the neck. As a result, you lose sensation and control in your body below your neck. The names “quadriplegia” and “tetraplegia” come from the fact that the injury affects all four of your limbs.
Your spinal cord can get severed in a few ways, including the following:
A foreign object can pierce the spinal canal and sever the spinal cord. This can happen in an assault when a bullet or knife blade penetrates your back and cuts the spinal nerves. It can also occur in an accident when you fall on something sharp. For instance, if you fall onto a piece of rebar in a workplace accident, the metal could pierce your spine and sever the nerves inside.
When you fracture a vertebra, it can dislocate or produce bone fragments. In either case, a jagged bone can tear into the meninges protecting the spinal cord and cut into the spinal nerves.
A fractured neck can happen anytime you suffer head or neck trauma. For example, in a car accident, your head may whip back and forth. This whipping hyperextends and compresses the neck. During hyperextension, the tension in the ligaments holding your spine together can break off a piece of a vertebra. This frees the vertebra to slip out of place and sever the spinal cord.
During compression, the vertebra can crack and break into two or more pieces. The pieces can get pushed into the spinal canal and damage the spinal cord.
What Factors Affect the Severity of a Quadriplegia Injury?
Two factors determine the severity of a quadriplegia injury and the functions you might retain after suffering one.
Completeness of the Injury
The completeness of a spinal cord injury refers to the number of spinal nerves severed. If all the spinal nerves get severed, you have a complete injury. You will have no sensation or motor control below the injury.
On the other hand, in an incomplete injury, some but not all of the spinal nerves get severed. As a result, you retain some sensation and motor control below the level of the injury.
Instead of complete loss of sensation, you will experience partial paralysis along with:
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of coordination
- Lack of dexterity
Importantly, an incomplete injury might allow you to recover some of the functions you lost. The brain has a property called neuroplasticity. This property allows the brain to reorganize its map of the body so it can use the intact nerves to take over control of paralyzed areas. With intensive physical therapy, you might regain some shoulder, arm, hand, and finger control.
Level of the Injury
You have seven cervical vertebrae in your neck, numbered C1 through C7. Additionally, you have a pair of spinal nerves above and below each cervical vertebra, which are numbered C1 through C8. The location of your injury will determine which specific functions of your body are affected.
For example, C1 and C2 injuries affect your ability to breathe. As a result, these injuries are often fatal because paralysis in your chest will prevent you from breathing. If you receive immediate attention and survive a C1 or C2 injury, you will need a ventilator to breathe and will experience paralysis in your limbs, chest, and abdomen.
C3 and C4 injuries can also affect breathing. But with therapy, you might eventually breathe on your own again. You will likely have paralysis in all four limbs as well as your chest and abdomen.
On the other hand, C5 and C6 injuries will probably not affect your breathing. You will still have paralysis in your upper limbs, but you may have some sensation and movement in your shoulders.
C7 and C8 injuries may leave you with some functions in your arms and hands. However, you will still need physical therapy and will probably not have sensation or control in your legs. You will also have no control over your bowel or bladder.
How Can I Get Compensation For a Quadriplegia Injury?
Pennsylvania law allows you to pursue a personal injury claim for quadriplegia injuries that resulted from someone else’s intentional or negligent actions. To recover compensation, you must prove that the other person intended to cause harmful contact or failed to exercise reasonable care in making contact with you.
Thus, you may have a claim if the other person deliberately hit you or threw something at you. You might also have a claim when someone acts recklessly or negligently and injures you as a result.
A quadriplegia injury is one of the most catastrophic injuries a person can experience. You may need substantial resources to pay for doctors, therapists, and caretakers. But you do not have to bear this burden alone. Contact Marzzacco Niven & Associates for a free consultation with a top-rated Harrisburg personal injury lawyer today.