Types of Spinal Cord Injury - Tetraplegia and Paraplegia

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Understanding your spinal cord injury

A severe injury to the spinal cord is likely to greatly affect a patient's life experience as well as their idea of who they are and the things of which they are capable.

This is particularly true for any person who sustains a spinal injury that leads to tetraplegia or paraplegia; such injuries are likely to be permanent and life-changing, so it is important to understand how they occur and how they impact life.

To do this we first need to consider the anatomy of the spine, which is comprised of 33 vertebrae that surround the nerve tissues of the spinal cord. These vertebrae are categorised on the basis of their location, from the first vertebra at the top of the neck (the cervical spine) down to the last at the base of the sacrum (the sacral spine). Each section's vertebra are numbered as follows:


Tetraplegia, (also referred to as quadriplegia) is used to describe a spinal cord injury situated at the first thoracic vertebra (T1), or anywhere in the cervical spine (C1-C8). Typically this will result in some level of paralysis in all of the limbs. However, injuries located higher up the spine are invariably the most severe.

The severity of the injury will also depend on the force of trauma, the degree of injury, the promptness of treatment and the quality of rehabilitation.

In more severe cases, a tetraplegia spinal cord injury impairs respiratory function to the point that the injured party may need assistance with breathing. Even with assistance, those with tetraplegia are at risk of chronic respiratory failure and are likely to have significantly reduced quality of life and, partly because of an increased susceptibility to pneumonia, reduced life expectancy.

Other common complications of tetraplegia include the following:

  • Blood clots
  • Urinary infections
  • Pressure sores
  • Muscular spasticity (contraction of the muscle causing restriction of movement)
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Pain and discomfort

Furthermore, in instances of injury to C3 and above, the patient may experience locked-in-syndrome. This means that despite being fully conscious, the patient is unable to communicate.


Paraplegia is caused by injury to the spinal cord below the first thoracic vertebrae (L1) down to base of the lumbar spine (L5). Paraplegia usually does not impair full use of the hands and arms but mobility and sensation of the legs is likely to be affected to some extent, depending on the force of trauma and degree of injury.

Other possible effects of a paraplegia spinal cord injury include the following:

  • Loss of sensation below level of injury
  • Phantom sensations
  • Loss of bladder and bowel function
  • Lost or reduced sexual function.
  • Mental health symptoms
  • Weight gain
  • Susceptibility to secondary infections
  • Pain

Talk to Thompsons - Spinal Injury Claims

The paraplegia and tetraplegia spinal injury solicitors at Thompsons are here to help you with all aspects of a compensation claim, including securing sums for the following:

  • Home and car adaptations
  • Lost earnings
  • Expenses
  • Transport
  • Medical equipment
  • Healthcare, including private rehabilitation and therapy

Whenever possible, we also strive to secure interim compensation for your most pressing needs, including healthcare and rehabilitation, specialist equipment, and home adaptations.

Contact Thompsons today to see if we could help you make a claim. Call us on 0800 0891 331 or fill in our contact form so we can discuss your options.

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