What is Paralysis?

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Paralysis is a condition involving a loss of muscle function in the body that may be accompanied by sensory loss, also referred to as loss of feeling.

The term is derived from the Greek word that means disabling of the nerves. This is because it is usually due to damage to the nervous system that there is loss of motor function or sensory information.


There are several possible reasons that one may experience temporary or permanent paralysis. It is usually as a results of damage to the spinal cord or other parts of the nervous system and associated with:

  • Stroke
  • Trauma
  • Poliomyelitis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Botulism
  • Spina bifida
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Additionally, some medications may impact the function of the nerves and in rare cases have the potential to cause paralysis.

Pseudo paralysis

Pseudo paralysis is a term that refers to voluntary restriction of movement. It is not due to muscular paralysis and malfunction of the nerves responsible for movement but, rather, a choice to refrain from moving due to pain or incoordination.


Paralysis can be categorized as either localized when a specific part of the body such as the face or hand is affected, or generalized when a large section of the body is affected, such as the entire lower body.

There are also more specific terms to describe particular areas of the body that are affected.

  • Monoplegia is the paralysis of one limb.
  • Hemiplegia is the paralysis of the arm and leg on one side of the body.
  • Paraplegia is the paralysis of both legs and some other areas of the lower body, such as the pelvis.
  • Tetraplegia or quadriplegia is the paralysis of both arms and legs.


It is common for paralysis to result in several secondary health conditions. Particularly urinary incontinence and bowel incontinence are known to affect many people who are affected by paralysis. Additionally, the sexual function of both men and women is often affected negatively.

Pressure ulcers may also occur, as a result of excessive pressure placed on particular tissues in the body.

Many people also experiences psychological effects as a result of the changes related to paralysis. Depression is very common as individuals are often unable to live life as they were accustomed to doing and adjusting to this change can be difficult.


The aim of treatment for individuals with paralysis is generally for them to live as independently as possible with the highest quality of life.

The optimal management for each individual with paralysis depends on the type of paralysis and the effect this has on their quality of life.

Disability aid devices can offer solution to some types of paralysis. For example, paraplegics that have lost the function of the lower part of their body may be able to use a wheelchair and live a relatively independent lifestyle.

For people with paralysis also in the upper part of the body, an electric wheelchair can help with mobility if they still have control of movement in their hands.

Orthoses are another alternative that are designed to improve limb function and help compensate for any weakness in the affected muscles.

The complications of paralysis also require sufficient management and monitoring. It is helpful to be aware of possible complications so that signs can be recognized earlier if they do occur. Additionally, medical management of these conditions is justified and should be addressed to improve the quality of life of each individual.


Further Reading

Last Updated: May 27, 2019

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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