Paraplegia is a condition that occurs when a person develops weakness of both legs because of a problem in the spinal cord or the nerves supplying the muscles of lower limbs, or due to a direct dysfunction of the muscles. Paraplegia results from a spinal cord injury below the first thoracic spinal nerve. A person with paraplegia loses the ability to walk, stand, or sit, with complete paralysis from the waist down, in some cases including loss of bladder and bowel control. Sometimes the paralysis reaches as high as the chest but the upper limbs are not affected. A diminished or complete absence of pain sensitivity or temperature regulation is experienced in the body’s affected area. Medical testing to diagnose paraplegia typically involves imaging of the spine with MRI, nerve conduction velocity studies, and/or electromyography (testing for electrical activity in muscles).
Paraplegia may be triggered by a number of causes: infections such as transverse myelitis, trauma to the spinal cord, spinal vertebrae fracture, or clots in the spinal cord blood vessels. These causes have been linked to sudden onset paraplegia. In other cases, paraplegia may be a more slowly evolving process, such as with tuberculosis, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, poliomyelitis, or tumors, to name a few. Children with spastic cerebral palsy may occasionally have paraplegia.