Paraplegia is paralysis (loss of movement or sensation, or both) brought on by a severe trauma to the central nervous system. It is the result of damage occurring at the level of the thoracic or lumbar vertebrae of the spinal cord, or lower.
The location of the spinal cord injury (SCI) is very important as the higher up the injury, the greater the area of paralysis.
Paraplegia involves the legs and feet. It may also involve the torso, but will not include the arms. Legs, feet, back, stomach and chest may no longer function normally.
The individual can’t stand or walk. Muscles may sometimes spasm (cramp). It may be difficult to sit up.
Usually paraplegia is caused by an accident. Less often, it can be the aftermath of tumors or disease.
In the case of an accident, the first indications of paraplegia will be an inability to move or feel the legs, feet and toes, though there may be extreme back pain.
The individual is now also vulnerable to injury from burns or pressure sores (decubitus ulcers) because they can’t feel anything.
The individual loses bowel and bladder control. The body may experience a number of regulatory problems, such as low or erratic blood pressure, fluctuations in body temperature, and the inability to sweat from the level of injury on down.
Men will have difficulty in getting erections, and both men and women may be less able to reach orgasm than previously. Despite these losses, men can still become fathers and women can still become mothers.
So all is not lost, and with some effort and determination, their sex lives can become pleasurable once again. But things will never be what they were.
Injuries at the T1 level (the first thoracic vertebra) will allow normal movement and sensation but the individual is unable to walk or stand up.
Injuries that are lower on the spinal cord, from T6 to T12 (the sixth to the twelfth thoracic vertebra), can allow for some muscle strength in the abdomen and walking may be possible with crutches, or with leg braces and a walker.
By Jody Smith