A man in a wheelchair beside the words types of paralysis

Approximately 5.4 million people in the United States are paralyzed. Twenty-seven percent of these paralysis cases are caused by a spinal cord injury due to trauma, disease, or developmental issues.

In some cases, paralysis is temporary. In others, it is permanent and/or progressive, meaning it will get worse with time. Paralysis can also get better with time, even if it is considered permanent. Read on to learn about the different types of paralysis and their causes.

What Is Paralysis and How Does It Happen?

Paralysis, by medical definition, is the inability, whether temporary or permanent, to move a part of the body. Almost all forms of paralysis are caused by nerve damage rather than an injury to the affected part of the body.

Paralysis is often the result of one of the following factors:

  • The brain is unable to relay a signal to areas of the body due to a brain injury.
  • The brain can sense touch and other sensations in the body but is not able to effectively communicate a response due to a spinal cord injury.
  • The brain can neither send nor receive messages to areas of the body due to a spinal cord injury.

Four Types of Paralysis Based on Location

Paralysis can be either localized or generalized. Localized paralysis affects only one part of the body whereas generalized paralysis affects multiple body parts.

When it comes to injury-induced paralysis, localized paralysis is generally caused by localized nerve damage. Generalized paralysis, on the other hand, is caused by more extensive injuries, such as damage to the spinal cord. Generalized paralysis is broken down into four categories based on the affected areas:

  • Monoplegia: Affects one arm or one leg
  • Hemiplegia: Affects one arm and leg on the same side of the body
  • Paraplegia: Affects both legs
  • Quadriplegia: Affects both arms and both legs

All four types of generalized paralysis can be caused by injury, but cases of hemiplegia after an injury are rare. Hemiplegia is most often caused by cerebral palsy or other developmental disease. Monoplegia can occur if nerves are impinged or severed during an injury. Traumatic spinal cord injuries commonly cause both paraplegia and quadriplegia.

Paralysis can range in severity and may or may not be permanent. If you experience pain and/or paralysis after an injury, consult a specialist and hire a personal injury attorney.

What Causes Paralysis?

There are many different causes of paralysis. Some are completely medical and not caused by an accident, and others are caused by serious injuries to either the brain or spinal cord. According to the Christopher Reeve Foundation, 1.2 million Americans live with paralysis due to a spinal cord injury. Here are some of the most common accidents that can lead to paralysis:

Causes of Monoplegia

Cerebral palsy is the leading cause of monoplegia. However, injuries and ailments can also lead to this type of partial paralysis. This includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Strokes
  • Tumors
  • Nerve damage due to injuries or diseases
  • Nerve impingement
  • Motor neuron damage
  • Brain injuries
  • Impacted or severed nerves at the affected location

Causes of Hemiplegia

Hemiplegia is also most often the result of cerebral palsy. Other conditions such as incomplete spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, or damage to the nervous system due to disorders can result in hemiplegia.

Causes of Paraplegia

The most common cause of paraplegia is damage to the spinal cord. These injuries cut off the brain’s ability to send and receive signals to areas below the site of the injury. Causes of paraplegia also include:

  • Spinal cord infections
  • Spinal cord lesions
  • Brain tumors
  • Brain infections
  • Severe nerve damage, though this is rare
  • Brain or spinal cord oxygen deprivation
    • Caused by:
      • Choking
      • Surgical accidents
      • Violence
  • Congenital malformation of the brain and spinal cord

Causes of Quadriplegia

Severe spinal cord or brain injuries sustained in car accidents, assault, sporting injuries, or slip and falls commonly cause quadriplegia. Other causes include:

  • Brain injuries due to illness, infections, or stroke
  • Loss of oxygen to the brain or spinal cord due to choking, anesthesia-related accidents, anaphylactic shock
  • Spinal and brain lesions
  • Spinal and brain tumors
  • Spinal and brain infections
  • Catastrophic nerve damage throughout the body
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Early brain injuries due to a birth injury or pre-birth injury
  • Allergic reactions to drugs
  • Drug or alcohol overdoses

Factors to Consider When Defining Paralysis

Location is not the only factor that doctors consider when defining what type of paralysis a patient has. Other factors and definitions include:


The severity of paralysis is described by one of two terms: partial or complete. With partial paralysis, a patient has some feeling and control over the muscles in the affected areas. With complete paralysis, the patient has no feeling or control.


Depending on the cause and severity of the injury, paralysis may be temporary or permanent.

Muscle Involvement

Paralysis can be either spastic or flaccid, depending on how it affects your muscles. In flaccid paralysis, your muscles become weak and atrophy. In spastic paralysis, your muscles can twitch or spasm and may become tight and hard.

Are There Treatments for Paralysis?

There are treatment options available for people who suffer paralysis after an injury, including surgery, physical therapy, occupational therapy, medication, and more. The type of treatment prescribed depends primarily on the type, severity, and prognosis of the injury in question.

If the paralysis is considered temporary or reversible to some extent, treatment may involve surgery to stabilize the area followed by physical therapy to strengthen muscles and improve motor function. If paralysis is incurable, it may be treated symptomatically. For example, muscle relaxers are often used to control the spasms associated with spastic paralysis.

New and exciting treatments are also on the horizon. Stem cells have shown remarkable ability to heal and regenerate damaged tissue, making them ideal for treating paralysis.

Prognosis for People Paralyzed Due to Injury

There is always some hope of recovery with spinal cord injuries. Of course, prognosis is highly dependent on the type and severity of the paralysis. Incomplete spinal cord injuries offer the most hope for recovery. However, even people with complete paralysis have been able to regain some function with early intervention.

Most improvement after a spinal cord injury occurs within the first two years, the first year usually being the hardest. Intense physical and occupational therapy is required during this time to restore as much function as possible to the affected area.

If you’ve been injured in Abilene, TX, call Hernandez Law Group today to learn more about your rights and responsibilities. Juan Hernandez is a Texas board-certified personal injury attorney—a designation that only two percent of Texas attorneys share.