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Caring For Someone with Quadriplegia

Quadriplegia is a form of paralysis that affects the upper and lower body of an individual. Sometimes referred to as tetraplegia, this condition usually occurs after an injury to the top portion of the spine. Once the spinal cord is damaged, a person with quadriplegia must learn how to navigate life a little differently, and there are some unique challenges that they may face.

What is Quadriplegia?

Quadriplegia typically occurs when the cervical spine is damaged between C1 and C7. This causes a loss of feeling and function below the neck, and many people aren’t able to move at all. The severity of a person’s paralysis is directly related to how high the injury occurs on the person’s spine. Oftentimes, a spinal cord injury is the result of a damaged vertebrae, ligament or disk in the spinal column or the spinal cord itself can be damaged as well.

human spine
Cevical (C1-C7)
Thoracic (T1-T12)
Lumbar (L1-L5)

According to Spinal Cord, Inc., most spinal cord injuries (SCIs) that result in quadriplegia are a result of the following:

Auto Accidents (32.2%)

Falls (22.9%)

Gunshot Wounds (15.2%)

Motorcycle Accidents (6.2%)

Diving (5.7%)

Medical/Surgical Complications (2.9%)

Being Hit by a Flying/Falling Object (2.7%)

Bicycle Accidents (1.7%)

Pedestrian Accidents (1.5%)

Other causes of SCIs (Spinal Cord Injury) include brain damage from a traumatic brain injury or inherited diseases like Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Muscular Dystrophy.

What are the Types of Quadriplegia?

Quadriplegia always involves the paralysis of all four limbs, but there are two different types of this condition that can present in very different ways.

Incomplete Quadriplegia

A person who has incomplete quadriplegia may still have some sensation in their arms and legs, and they may even be able to move them a little. Oftentimes, this condition is the result of a partial SCI, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or an inherited condition. In some cases, a person with incomplete quadriplegia can significantly improve their limb functions with physical therapy, while in other cases, a person may slip into complete quadriplegia as their condition progresses.

Complete Quadriplegia

When a person has complete quadriplegia, they are not able to move or feel their arms or legs at all, and the individual is often only able to move their head. This condition is usually more severe and is a result of SCI or TBI. There are many therapy options available for a person with complete quadriplegia, but they often do not gain function of their extremities.

What Are Other Health Conditions Associated with Quadriplegia?

When a person has quadriplegia, they can face some unique health challenges. It’s important to learn about them so you’re able to help your loved one. Some of these health conditions include:


When a person can’t move or readjust their position often, pressure sores can develop on their body. If left untreated, they can become infected. To avoid sores, make sure you help your loved one move often.


When a person with quadriplegia experiences spasticity (or spastic hypertonic), their arms and legs may have uncontrolled spasms that make it difficult for them to relax their muscles. This is common and is usually caused by cysts that form in the spinal column after an SCI or an infection. When these spasms occur, it’s important to get a doctor’s recommendation on therapies to help alleviate the symptoms.

Urinary Tract Infections

Since a person with quadriplegia can’t control their bladder, it’s more difficult for them to completely empty their bladder, which can result in UTIs.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections can be very serious for someone with quadriplegia and are a leading cause of death among newly injured patients.

Chronic Pain

When a person develops quadriplegia, they likely have damaged nerves, and those nerves can cause chronic pain.

Muscular Atrophy

When a person doesn’t use their arms and legs, muscles can begin to atrophy and become weak. Physical therapy can greatly aid in keeping muscles healthy and keeping atrophy at bay.

Weight Gain

When a person is in a bed or wheelchair, they may not be able to burn as many calories as they had before their injury. If this happens, they can gain weight rapidly. To avoid this, make sure your loved one is eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Sexual Side Effects

It is common for men and women with quadriplegia to have trouble achieving an orgasm and may experience a loss in libido.

How a Family Caregiver Can Assist Someone With Quadriplegia?

There are many therapy options that can provide significant improvements for patients with this condition. As a caregiver, you will assist your loved one with daily tasks like dressing, grooming, bathing, continence care, and feeding. You’ll also may need to assist with transferring and repositioning to make sure your loved one stays safe and healthy.

A person with quadriplegia will likely have many appointments, therapies, and need assistance with activities of daily living each day and a compassionate caregiver will be the greatest gift to have.

If you’re caring for someone with quadriplegia, please reach out and contact us. PASCO’s Family Caregiver Program was created to support people in your shoes, and we’re here to care for you. Our organization reimburses caregivers for the time they spend pouring into their loved ones, and we like to think it helps to lighten their loads just a little.

Family Caregiver Program

In 2001, PASCO’s founder Barry Rosenberg initiated the creation of the Family Caregiver Program in Colorado. Today, family caregivers can be reimbursed for some of the time they spend giving care to loved ones with cerebral palsy.

To learn more about the program and caring for people with cerebral palsy, contact us at any convenient time.

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