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Types of Paralysis

Paralysis refers to the loss of muscle function and/or sensation in part of the body. While most people associate paralysis with spinal cord injuries, many different injuries, illnesses and natural-born conditions can lead to paralysis. The common causes of paralysis include traumatic accidents, infections, cancers, strokes, brain injuries, surgical errors and cerebral palsy. Learning the types of paralysis can help you understand what to expect if you or a loved one receives a paralysis diagnosis.

Temporary vs. Permanent

Not all types of paralysis are permanent conditions. Temporary paralysis may arise from conditions such as Bell’s palsy or birth injuries. A patient will eventually recover from temporary paralysis. Permanent paralysis, however, is incurable and will cause loss of muscle function in the affected areas into the foreseeable future, with possible improvements through treatments.

Partial vs. Complete

A patient with partial paralysis may retain some feeling, sensation or ability to move in the affected areas. Complete paralysis means the total inability to move or feel the muscles. A patient will retain some muscle control with partial paralysis but lose all muscle control with complete. Localized paralysis refers to the inability to move only one part of the body, such as the face, while generalized paralysis affects multiple parts of the body.

Flaccid vs. Spastic

Flaccid paralysis occurs when the muscles become weak due to an injury or condition that makes the muscles shrink and become flabby. Flaccid muscles will appear relaxed and typically do not move on their own. Spastic paralysis, on the other hand, describes muscles that become hard and tight. Spastic muscles might experience periodic spasms, or involuntary jerking movements. The patient will not be able to voluntarily move the affected limbs with flaccid or spastic paralysis.


When a doctor diagnoses a patient with paralysis, he or she will categorize the condition based on how many body parts it affects. Monoplegia – as implied by its prefix, mono – refers to the paralysis of a single part of the body. A person may suffer from monoplegia if he or she loses muscle function and feeling in just one arm or leg, for example. Patients with monoplegia can typically move the rest of his or her body other than the damaged or injured limb. Strokes, brain injuries and cerebral palsy often cause temporary or permanent monoplegia.


Hemiplegia affects the limbs on only one side of the body, such as the left arm and left leg only. The other side of the body retains its feeling and function. The severity of hemiplegia can vary significantly from patient to patient, but it often starts as tingling in the body before escalating into full paralysis.


Paraplegia is the paralysis of the lower half of the body. Paraplegia can refer to paralysis in both legs only, both legs and the pelvis, or both legs and the trunk of the body. A patient may or may not retain the function of his or her bowels, urinary tract, and sexual organs with paraplegia. Brain injuries, tumors, infections and spine injuries can cause paraplegia.


Triplegia affects three limbs, but not the fourth. For example, the patient may experience paralysis in both legs and only one arm, or (less commonly) both arms and one leg. Cerebral palsy is a common cause of triplegia, as are traumatic brain injuries. Triplegia may or may not involve paralysis of the trunk of the body.

Quadriplegia (Tetraplegia)

The most significantly disabling category of paralysis is quadriplegia. Quadriplegia (also called tetraplegia) is the paralysis of all four limbs and the trunk of the body. The patient may or may not have paralysis in the neck and respiratory system as well. Some patients with quadriplegia require breathing machines, while others do not.

With physical therapy, surgeries and other treatment methods, it may be possible for a patient with paralysis to regain function in the affected body parts. If a patient has paralysis due to the negligence of others, he or she may be eligible for financial compensation through a personal injury lawsuit in Houston.