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What is Quadriplegia?

Quadriplegia is paralysis caused by illness or injury that results in the partial or total loss of use of all four limbs and torso. The loss usually means that both sensation and control are lost. Muscles may be flaccid or spastic. Paralysis can be either partial, periodic, complete, or incomplete. Paralysis of both the arms and legs has been traditionally called quadriplegia. The quad comes from Latin and means four, and plegia comes from Greek and means the inability to move. Currently, the term tetraplegia is becoming more popular, but it means the same thing. Tetra is from Greek and means the inability to move.

What are the Causes of Quadriplegia?

Spinal cord injury is the primary cause of quadriplegia; however, other conditions, such as cerebral palsy and strokes, can cause similar-appearing paralysis. The amount of impairment resulting from a spinal cord injury depends on the part of the spinal cord injured and the amount of damage done. Injury to the spinal cord is the most prevalent cause because the spinal cord and the brain are the main parts of the central nervous system, which sends messages throughout the body. When the spinal cord is injured the brain cannot properly communicate with it and so sensation and movement are impaired. The spinal cord is not the spine itself; it is the nerve system encased in the vertebrae and discs. The leading causes of spinal cord injuries are motor vehicle accidents, work injuries, sports accidents, and violence.

What are the Injury Levels and Effects of Quadriplegia?

  • C1-C3 – Limited neck movement depending on the muscle strength of the individual, requiring complete care with everyday tasks; fully ventilator dependent.
  • C4 – Generally have full head and neck movement as well as slight shoulder movement, though there is still full paralysis of the arms and legs. Complete care is usually still required. The patient may be weaned from a mechanical ventilator, but assistance with coughing and removal of secretions may be necessary.
  • C5 – Typically full neck and head movement with good muscle strength as well as good shoulder control, varying degrees of elbow movement, and notable self-care.
  • C6 – Often enough upper body control and strength to use a manual wheelchair, with notable independent skills.
  • C7-C8 – Significant movement and independence depending on the flexibility and strength of the individual.

How is Quadriplegia Treated?

Although some quadriplegics experience significant improvements in symptoms, and even total cure based on repaired damage, quadriplegia is not curable with treatment, per se. This means that no surgical procedure, drug, or form of therapy can guarantee a return of functioning, and few quadriplegics will ever regain all functioning.


Instead, the goals of treatment include improving the long-term prognosis, reducing immediate threats to life and health, and teaching the brain and spinal cord how to work around the injury. Some treatment options include:

  • Brain and spinal cord surgeries to address obstructions, reduce bleeding, and manage swelling.
  • Medication to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Exercise therapy.

Prognosis for Quadriplegia

Those with severe injury levels, respiratory issues and a higher risk for infection can decrease lifespan. However, many with quadriplegia live full lifespans.

Mobility for Those with Quadriplegia

Most with quadriplegia require the use of a specialized power wheelchair. Quantum Rehab, the global leader in individualized power chairs, puts an emphasis on mobility technologies specific to the needs of those with quadriplegia. Quantum Power Chairs incorporate power-adjustable seating for user repositioning and comfort; speciality drive controls, including those requiring minimal hand strength; and, a highly-adaptable design to meet an individual’s current and future needs.


Quantum Power Chairs feature the latest advanced technologies to increase the independence of those living with quadriplegia. iLevel seat elevation technology allows a user to operate the power chair at seated or standing height. Bluetooth is also integrated into Quantum’s Q-Logic 3 electronics, so those with quadriplegia can operate much of their environment with the power chair drive control, itself. For those with quadriplegia, Quantum Power Chairs are designed to provide optimal medical comfort and maximum independence.


The Quantum Edge 3 with industry-first 4.5 mph at iLevel offers the most advanced power chair experience ever. Q6 Power Chair Series, which includes the Edge 3 and Q6 Edge 2.0 power chairs, provide highly adjustable mid-wheel drive power bases. The Q6 Edge 2.0 all accept our optional iLevel technology, which offers up to 12 inches of lift at 4.5 mph. The 4Front is a quiet, more responsive front-wheel drive power chair that features automotive-grade suspension with unprecedented comfort and rides quality.