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Paralysis: Forms, Symptoms & Causes

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 387 views

Paralysis can occur for a variety of reasons. They are based, for example, on nerve injuries or diseases of the central nervous system. These can manifest themselves as complete paralysis of the muscle – or only partially paralyze the muscle function. Read here what causes paralysis, how it manifests itself, and which therapies can help.

What is paralysis?

The impulse for a movement comes from the brain. It is transmitted via the spinal cord and finally reaches the muscle via peripheral nerves. If this flow of communication is interrupted at one point, paralysis occurs. Then the muscle function fails wholly or partially.

The cause is usually damage or disorders of the nerve tracts or the corresponding switching points in the brain. Individual limbs, certain parts of the body, or an entire side of the body are then affected by paralysis. The affected muscles and body parts can usually hardly or not move at all.


Call an emergency doctor if signs of paralysis occur within a short time, if these are accompanied by shortness of breath or lack of air or if you can no longer control the bladder and anal sphincter!

Facial paralysis, or Bell’s palsy, is a neurological disorder that affects the muscles of the face. The disease causes sudden weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles on one side of the face. The face may appear to droop or droop on one side.
Facial paralysis often occurs suddenly and unexpectedly. It can have serious repercussions. A stroke is usually behind it.

The vocal cords have three parts: mucosa, muscle, and cartilage. The mucosa is the inner lining of the voice box, the muscle attaches to this and causes the vocal fold (the outermost layer of the vocal cords) to vibrate, and the cartilage keeps the folds from rubbing against each other. When the mucosa is inflamed, or when one of many muscles is strained, the vocal cords can become paralyzed, which can mean you have trouble singing, talking, or screaming. Vocal cord paralysis is most common in people who sing professionally, but anyone can be affected.

What is vocal cord paralysis? How does it arise, and how is it treated? Read everything about the so-called recurrent paralysis here!

Types of paralysis and how they manifest themselves

Paralysis is classified depending on the causes, the extent and effects, or the regions affected. Depending on how severe the paralysis is, physicians make a fundamental distinction

  • Paresis – partial paralysis or loss of muscle strength
  • Paralysis/plegia – complete paralysis

Plegia and Paresis

Doctors refer to complete paralysis affecting the skeletal muscles as plegia. These include the following phenomena:

Monoplegia affects only a single limb (extremity) or portions thereof, such as an arm or just the hand.

In the case of paraplegia (a form of paraplegia ), the entire lower half of the body is paralyzed – for example, as a result of an injury to the spine or a severely herniated disc. The legs, buttocks, and lower torso are particularly affected.

Tetraplegia, on the other hand, affects all four extremities, for example, after a spinal cord injury in the neck area. The patient can control head movements, but their arms and legs are paralyzed.

In the case of hemiplegia (“hemiplegia”), the body is paralyzed on one side. It occurs, for example, as a result of a stroke.


If, on the other hand, it is an incomplete paralysis (paresis), doctors speak of monoparesis, paraparesis, tetraparesis, or hemiparesis, depending on the extent. 

Paraplegia is paralysis in one or both legs. It can also affect movement in the arms, depending on the type of injury sustained. This condition can result from a traumatic injury, such as a car or motorcycle accident, falls, sports injuries, infection, or disease. Those with paraplegia may have difficulty walking, standing, sitting, and other movements.
What is paraplegia? What types of paraplegia are there? Is spinal cord injury curable? Read more about it!

Back injuries can range from mild to severe, depending on how much of the spinal column is damaged. However, no matter what the cause, back pain can be debilitating. It can keep you homebound, and it can prevent you from working. The good news is there are things you can do to help lessen or even prevent back pain.

The motto here is not to move – but only if the patient is not unconscious. Read more about first aid for spinal injuries!

Spastic paralysis (Central paralysis)

In the case of spastic paralysis (central paralysis), nerves of the central nervous system – i.e., the brain or spinal cord – are damaged. The brain controls the muscles of the body via the spinal cord. In the event of damage, muscle tension (muscle tone) increases in the affected region: the muscles stiffen, and mobility is restricted. Muscle reflexes are easier to trigger.

Doctors distinguish between the following forms of spastic paralysis:

  • Monospasticity: One leg or one arm is affected. 
  • Paraspasticity: Both legs are affected.
  • Hemispasm: Arm and leg are affected on one side of the body.
  • Tetraspasticity: Both arms and legs are affected, sometimes also the neck and trunk muscles.

Flaccid paralysis (peripheral paralysis)

In flaccid paralysis (peripheral paralysis), the nerve that runs from the spinal cord to the muscles is damaged. As a result, the transmission of impulses to the muscle is weakened or interrupted. In contrast to spastic paralysis, the muscle tone is reduced or completely gone. The reflexes are also reduced or completely gone.

Consequential damage from paralysis

Other symptoms associated with paralysis can occur:

In general, paralysis can severely limit the lives of those affected and their families. Severe courses may tie paralyzed people to a wheelchair for life. Breathing can also be impaired, sometimes so much that the patient must be ventilated permanently ( home ventilation ). Some diseases also progress inevitably, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which always ends fatally.

Arthritis describes inflammation of the joints. Everyone can get arthritis, but some people are more likely to develop it. For example, if you have a family history of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or osteoarthritis (OA), you may be more likely to develop arthritis. Common symptoms of arthritis include pain, swelling, stiffness, and joint problems.
Osteoarthritis is a joint disease caused by cartilage damage. One also speaks of joint wear. Read more about osteoarthritis here.

Diplopia (sometimes called double vision) is an eye condition in which a person sees double. Usually, two images (or objects) are present in someone’s vision. In the center, usually, is the image of one thing. Usually, pictures of a second object are to the left and right of that image. In extreme cases, images are so bad that a person sees three images.

Diplopia refers to seeing double images. Read here why you suddenly see double and what you can do about it!

What causes paralysis?

Symptoms of paralysis mainly occur as a result of diseases or damage to the brain, the spine, the nerve tracts, or the muscles. 

In central paralysis, the communication between the brain and muscles is disrupted. The cause can then lie directly in the brain or affect the spinal cord. In peripheral paralysis, on the other hand, nerves outside the central nervous system are damaged. Paralysis can also result from direct muscle disease or damage.

Causes in the brain and spinal cord (CNS)

Possible causes of paralysis located in the central nervous system include:

Strokes are one of the most common emergencies in the U.S., killing 140,000 Americans yearly. Every year, 830,000 Americans have a transient ischemic attack, a temporary blockage of the blood supply to the brain. Both conditions are caused by an interruption of blood flow caused by a blood clot or other blockage. Fortunately, strokes and TIAs can be treated if caught early.

Read here how this happens and what the signs are!

Disc prolapse is a relatively common medical condition, and doctors typically prescribe non-surgical treatments like Hernia Belts to treat it. However, some patients have disc prolapse that causes them severe pain, and in this case, surgery may be the only way to relieve the pain. Knowing what to expect before, during, and after disc prolapse surgery can help you understand what to expect and can help you prepare for surgery.

A herniated disc sometimes causes pain, tingling in the legs or arms and even paralysis. Read more about the herniated disc!

Did you know that about 2.6 million Americans have multiple sclerosis (MS)? The disease is an autoimmune disorder, which means the immune system attacks the body’s tissues. In MS, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath, which protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. Read more about the incurable disease here!

A brain hemorrhage is a severe medical condition. A cerebral hemorrhage is when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. This rupture releases blood and disrupts the blood flow to the brain. The human brain functions best with blood and oxygen levels. When a cerebral hemorrhage occurs, the brain does not receive enough blood or oxygen. This can cause many symptoms and problems.

Read more about symptoms, causes and chances of recovery from cerebral hemorrhage.

Causes of Peripheral paralysis

The following diseases primarily affect the peripheral nerves and cause flaccid paralysis:

Polyneuropathy, also known as neuropathy, is a condition that causes loss of nerve function. The nerves can become damaged for various reasons, such as overuse, exposure to toxins or chemicals, or chronic disease. While these causes aren’t crucial in diagnosing neuropathy, they can play a role in determining the severity and treatment.

In polyneuropathy, peripheral nerves are damaged, for example in the feet and hands. The cause is usually diabetes or alcohol. Read more!

A severe form of muscle weakness, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), is a serious condition. GBS causes weakness, numbness, or tingling in the arms or legs and can cause trouble breathing. The disease can strike suddenly and can be accompanied by fever and headaches. If GBS is not treated quickly, it can lead to permanent nerve damage.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is an inflammatory disease of the nerves. It is accompanied by paralysis and sensory disturbances. Read more about symptoms, causes and Treatment.

Spinal muscle atrophy, also known as spinal wasting, is a loss of muscle mass that can occur for various reasons. This muscle loss can lead to weakness, pain, and difficulty with movement. While some cases of spinal muscle atrophy are clearly age-related, many causes can also cause spinal muscle atrophy, including cancer, muscular dystrophy, and HIV.

Spinal muscular atrophies (SMA) are nerve diseases associated with progressive muscle breakdown. You can read more about the cause, treatment, and course here.

Mixed forms and other causes of paralysis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis affects the central and peripheral nerves (first and second motor neurons). Therefore, sufferers have both spastic and flaccid paralysis.

Both flaccid and spastic paresis and plegia can also occur in other clinical pictures. When the spinal cord is acutely damaged, flaccid paralysis sometimes occurs first (e.g., spinal shock in accidental spinal cord injuries). Over time, muscle tone increases to spasticity.

In addition to the damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, some diseases directly affect the muscles, so-called myopathies. They usually trigger muscle weakness through to paresis. This also includes, for example, myasthenia gravis, muscular dystrophies, or rheumatic diseases such as polymyositis and dermatomyositis.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive, invariably fatal, neurodegenerative disorder that predominantly affects the upper motor neurons in the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive, invariably fatal, neurodegenerative disorder that predominantly affects the upper motor neurons in the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. It is characterized by progressive weakness and atrophy in the legs, arms, and respiratory muscles in a relatively short period.

ALS is a degenerative nerve disease. Patients suffer from progressive muscle paralysis. Read more here!

Myasthenia gravis, also known as MG, is a neuromuscular disease that weakens your muscles. MG causes weakness and fatigability that can be severe enough to prevent you from moving your arms or legs. Symptoms often begin in the hands, head, eyelids, or feet. The disease affects women more than men and usually develops between the ages of 30 and 50. Myasthenia gravis can affect your breathing and heart. The condition is treatable, and most people with MG can lead everyday, healthy lives.

Myasthenia gravis is a nerve disease that causes severe skeletal muscle weakness. Read everything you need to know here!

Investigations in paralysis

To diagnose paralysis or its cause, the doctor first conducts a detailed anamnesis interview. A physical examination follows this. He checks mobility, muscle strength, reflexes, and feelings ( neurological examination ). 

Further investigations are often necessary to determine the cause of the paralysis.

Electromyography, or EMG, is a procedure that uses electrodes inserted on the skin to read muscle activity. It’s used to diagnose and study diseases and disorders of the muscles, nerves, and tendons. EMG is most commonly performed to identify neuromuscular conditions, such as muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and peripheral nerve disorders.

Electromyography is a study that records the natural electrical activity of a muscle. Everything you need to know here!

Electromyography (EMG) is the process of taking electrical recordings from your muscles during a medical test to detect or diagnose problems. Electroneuromyography (EMG), on the other hand, records the electrical activity of nerves. Both processes test your muscles, nerves, and the brain and can be used to find injury or nerve problems that affect your movement.

Electroneurography (ENG) measures the speed at which peripheral nerves transmit signals. Find out more here!

A lumbar puncture is a minor procedure that involves inserting a needle into the lower back to remove the spinal fluid. The process is most often used to treat patients with multiple sclerosis symptoms or diagnose the condition. The procedure may also be done for other conditions, such as headaches, infection, and other conditions that cause spinal fluid to build up. During a lumbar puncture, a needle is inserted into the lower back to remove a small amount of spinal fluid. The liquid is then analyzed under a microscope, and X-ray or CT imaging may be performed to evaluate the spine’s condition. Read all about it!

This is how Paralysis is treated

The treatment of paralysis depends on the cause of the disease. If a bacterial or viral infection is causing the paralysis, antibiotics or antivirals can help. Tumors that press on nerve tissue can be reduced by radiation, surgery, or chemotherapy.

Spasticity, in turn, usually improves with targeted Botox injections. However, if a nerve is permanently damaged or even severed, it can usually no longer be healed – but accompanying symptoms can be alleviated.

Physiotherapy is an essential component of therapy for paralysis. This applies in particular to paralysis that occurs as a result of muscle and nerve diseases. Appropriate exercises stretch shortened muscles, improve mobility and blood circulation and slow down muscle breakdown.

Physiotherapeutic measures also alleviate postural damage and malpositions caused by the paralysis. Occupational therapy is also essential so paralyzed people can return to their everyday lives and master them.

Physical therapy is an effective treatment that restores function and mobility following an injury, surgery, or disabling condition. Physical therapists use hands-on techniques to treat pain, restore function, increase mobility, and prevent disability. Therapists also help patients learn techniques and exercises to do at home. Read all about it!

Occupational therapy can be used to treat a wide range of challenging conditions. It can help children overcome cognitive or sensory impairments, such as difficulty speaking, reading, or communicating. Occupational therapists can design adaptive equipment, such as special glasses, which improve a child’s ability to see the world and navigate their environment. Occupational therapists also work with children with special needs, such as children with autism. They help children develop essential life skills, such as dressing, eating, and bathing.

Ergotherapy is a form of medical treatment and supports people with limited ability to act. Read everything you need to know here!

Exoskeletons have long been considered a futuristic technology, but exoskeletons are already being tested in fields ranging from rehabilitation to construction. The Exoskeleton Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, explores how exoskeletons can help humans with physical limitations, like spinal cord injuries, paralysis, and stroke. The Project’s first exoskeleton is called the SUIT, and it weighs only 18 pounds and fits over a person’s torso. It’s powered by a battery that can last up to three hours. The Exoskeleton Project is in the early stages of development, and they say the SUIT won’t be widely available until 2020.

With the help of the “Ekso” gait robot, paraplegics can get up and walk around the room.

Scientific Standards:

This text corresponds to the requirements of specialist medical literature, medical guidelines, and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.

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