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  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:



(Paralysis; Loss of Movement)


Paraplegia is a complete or partial loss of movement or feeling in the lower half of the body.


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Paraplegia happens when there is damage below the neck. The most common cause is trauma, such as from a sports injury or car accident. Other causes are:

  • Stroke
  • Genetic disorder (hereditary spastic paraplegia)
  • Congenital (present at birth)
  • Infection
  • Problems with the immune system
  • Tumor within the spinal cord or pushing on the spinal cord
  • Syrinx (a spinal cord disorder)

Risk Factors

The risk of paraplegia is higher for people who play contact sports.


The problems a person has will depend on how much of the spinal cord is affected. A person with paraplegia may have:

  • Loss of movement or muscle control in the legs, feet, toes, or trunk
  • Loss of feeling in the legs, feet, toes, or trunk
  • Tingling in the legs, feet, toes, or trunk
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Sexual problems


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Doctors who focus on treating problems with nerves, the spine, and bones may help make the diagnosis of paraplegia.

Blood tests will be done. The fluid around the brain and spine may also be tested. This can be done with a lumbar puncture.

Images may need to be taken of the spine. This can be done with:

Nerve function may be tested. This can be done with:


Emergency care will be needed. It can prevent further damage to the nervous system. It may also include:

  • Steroids to ease swelling of the spinal cord
  • Surgery to stabilize the spine or ease pressure on it


Paraplegia is often due to accidents that cannot be prevented.


Therapy will be needed to help with function and quality of life. Choices are:

  • Physical therapy—to improve movement and learn how to use assistive devices
  • Occupational therapy—to help with daily tasks and self care
  • Speech therapy—to improve swallowing and speech
  • Psychological therapy—to provide support




  • Eckert, M.J. and Martin, M.J. Trauma: Spinal Cord Injury. Surg Clin North Am, 2017; 97 (5): 1031-1045.
  • Management of chronic spinal cord injury. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/management-of-chronic-spinal-cord-injury.
  • Spinal cord injury. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/spinal-cord-injury.


  • Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.