Quadriplegia is one of the most catastrophic injuries you can experience. Quadriplegia means you have paralysis in all four of your limbs, although the degree of paralysis may vary.
The spinal cord injury that causes quadriplegia can also paralyze other body functions. Accident victims with quadriplegia may require breathing support, a feeding tube, and a full-time caretaker.
Here is an overview of how a quadriplegia injury happens and what kinds of compensation you can seek for one.
What is the Structure and Function of Your Nervous System?
Your brain controls all of the voluntary and involuntary actions in your body. Nerves carry brain signals through a combination of chemistry and electricity. Nerve cells release charged ions to communicate with neighboring cells.
The electric charges allow signals to pass almost immediately from cell to cell. But when nerve cells get damaged, they may be unable to receive or transmit nerve signals.
Your brain has two main branches of nerves. The cranial nerves control your face and head. They also collect sensory information from your nose, tongue, face, ears, and eyes.
The spinal cord controls everything below your head. It also controls a few functions in your neck. The spinal cord travels along the spinal canal in your back.
The vertebrae combine to form your spinal canal. Each vertebra has a cylindrical body and wing-shaped processes. The spinal canal sits in the gap between the vertebral body and processes. The vertebrae protect the spinal cord from injury.
Doctors refer to the section of the spine in your neck as the cervical spine. The cervical spine has seven vertebrae. At the top, it connects to your skull. The cervical spine supports the weight of your head and allows movement of your head and neck.
As the spinal cord travels along your spine, it branches out into nerve roots. Nerve roots carry the nerve signals for regions of your body. In your cervical spine, the nerve roots carry nerve signals for your chest, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, and part of your neck.
What Can Cause a Quadriplegia Injury?
Many different types of accidents can cause a quadriplegia injury, from car accidents to falling accidents in the workplace. But to cause quadriplegia, these accidents must sever the spinal cord in the cervical spine.
This can happen in two ways:
If something penetrates the spinal canal, it can sever the spinal cord. For example, a workplace accident involving a cutting tool might cause a blade to get ejected from the tool. If the blade cuts into the neck, it can sever the spinal cord, causing quadriplegia.
A fractured cervical vertebra can sever the spinal cord. This can happen when the fracture creates a bone fragment. The bone fragment migrates into the spinal canal and severs nerves in the spinal cord.
It can also happen when the fracture allows the vertebra to dislocate. The displaced vertebra can sever nerves in the neck.
What Are the Effects of a Quadriplegia Injury?
Most people associate quadriplegia with paralysis from the neck down. While this describes the defining symptom of quadriplegia, it does not tell the whole story.
Quadriplegia injuries fall into two broad types:
A complete quadriplegia injury happens when all of the nerves in the spinal cord get severed. Doctors cannot repair severed nerves. As a result, you will have no nerve signals moving from the brain to your body or from the body to the brain below the injury.
When you suffer a complete injury, you will have no sensation below the level of the injury. You will also have no control over voluntary or involuntary movements.
Incomplete quadriplegia happens when some, but not all, nerves in the spinal cord get severed. The severed nerves cannot carry nerve signals. The intact nerves can. As a result, you might experience partial paralysis in your limbs, chest, or neck.
For example, in an incomplete injury, you might experience paralysis more severely on one side of your body than the other side. Or you might have paralysis in your fingers and hands, but you might retain some control over your arms and shoulders.
Although doctors cannot cure incomplete quadriplegia, your brain might find ways to compensate for some of its effects. Through a characteristic called neuroplasticity, your brain can remap intact nerves to restore some functions in areas served by severed nerves.
What Are the Levels of a Quadriplegia Injury?
In addition to the completeness of the injury, your symptoms will also depend on the level of the injury. You have seven cervical vertebrae. You have eight cervical nerve roots, with the first nerve root emerging above the top cervical vertebra and the eighth cervical nerve root emerging below the lowest cervical vertebra. From top to bottom, these nerve roots are numbered C1 through C8.
The location of the injury will determine how much function you retain after the accident. If you suffer a spinal cord injury at C1 or C2, you will likely suffer death. C1 and C2 include the nerves that control respiration. When they get severed, you will stop breathing.
A spinal cord injury at C3 or C4 will probably leave you dependent on a respirator to help you breathe. You will have complete paralysis from your neck down.
You might not have control over functions like:
- Coughing and throat clearing
- Bowel movement
- Bladder control
After a C5 or C6 injury, you will probably retain the ability to breathe, speak, and swallow. You will have control over your neck and probably have some control over your shoulders.
A C7 or C8 injury will leave you with additional functions like arm movement, although your hand and fingers might still experience some paralysis. You may have feeling and movement in your chest. You will probably breathe, speak, and swallow normally.
How Do You Get Compensation for a Quadriplegia Injury?
If your spinal cord injury resulted from a workplace accident, you could receive workers’ compensation benefits. Although you usually cannot sue your employer for on-the-job injuries, you can sue product manufacturers or other third parties who contributed to your accident.
If your quadriplegia injury happened elsewhere, you might be entitled to seek compensation from anyone who negligently or intentionally caused your injury. If you succeed, you can recover compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, pain, and suffering. Quadriplegia could leave you without any ability to care for yourself. To learn about the compensation you can seek for the losses from a quadriplegia injury, contact the Allen Law Firm, P.A. to schedule a free case evaluation.