Severe nerve damage sometimes causes paralysis. The most catastrophic form of paralysis, quadriplegia, happens when trauma severs the nerves of your spinal cord.
Quadriplegia affects everything you do, including your ability to work, engage in various hobbies and activities, and even care for yourself.
Learn more about the causes and effects of a quadriplegia injury and how you can seek compensation after a dangerous accident caused by someone’s negligence.
What Is the Nervous System’s Structure?
The brain controls everything in your body. It does this by sending and receiving signals through nerves. Together, your brain and nerves make up your nervous system.
Your brain uses two sets of nerves to function: the cranial nerves connect your brain to your face and head, and your spinal cord connects your brain to your body.
The spinal cord runs from the base of your brain down the center of your back through the spine, branching into nerve roots at each vertebra. These bundles of nerves carry the nerve signals for specific sections of your body.
The region controlled by a nerve root corresponds to its location. For example, the bundle of nerves that control your shoulders branches from your neck, while the bundle for your foot sits just above your hips.
The brain controls the body by sending and receiving sensory signals from your skin, muscles, and other organs via the nerves.
How Can a Quadriplegia Injury Happen?
Nerve cells pass signals to one another using a combination of chemistry and electricity. When they’re damaged, they often can’t transmit signals correctly.
In the worst-case scenario, nerves can become severed. The signals can’t bridge the gap in a severed nerve. As a result, your brain can no longer send signals to your muscles or organs below the injury, and the body can no longer send information back to your brain.
Quadriplegia results when the spinal cord becomes severed at the neck. When this happens, all four limbs, the chest, and the abdomen experience paralysis and loss of sensation.
Your spinal cord can be severed in a few ways, including:
It’s possible for an object to enter the spine and slice the nerves inside. For example, a knife blade, bullet, or another object can cut the spinal cord during an assault.
An accident could also cause a foreign object to sever your nerves. Imagine that you fall onto a section of rebar at a construction site. Depending on how the rebar enters your body, it could pierce the meninges protecting the spinal cord and cut the nerves inside.
Each vertebra has a cylindrical body and wing-shaped processes. When the body fractures, bone fragments can escape into the spinal canal, ultimately severing the nerves inside.
When the processes fracture, the attached ligaments can’t keep the vertebra in place. As a result, the vertebra dislocates into the spinal canal, squeezing, crushing, and cutting the spinal cord.
A fractured vertebra can happen in almost any type of accident that causes back trauma. If you’re involved in a bicycle or pedestrian accident, for instance, the bending and twisting of your spine when you’re struck by a vehicle or slammed into the ground could potentially break your back.
What Are the Symptoms of a Quadriplegia Injury?
The severity of your quadriplegia injury depends on two factors:
Degree of Injury
Spinal cord injuries can be either complete or incomplete.
A complete spinal cord injury results from a total severing of the spinal cord. As a result, no nerve connections remain between the body and the brain. A complete injury in the neck produces total paralysis.
An incomplete spinal cord injury results from a partial severing of the spinal cord — some nerve connections remain intact while others are severed, resulting in partial paralysis. The effects of an incomplete injury depend on which nerve signals are lost.
Level of Injury
The location of the injury will also affect the symptoms you experience. Generally speaking, the higher the injury, the more profound the symptoms. This happens because higher injuries affect more nerve roots. Lower injuries only affect the nerves that have not yet branched into nerve roots.
The neck has eight nerve roots numbered C1 through C8. These nerve roots exit the spinal cord above and below each of the seven cervical vertebrae. Thus, the C1 nerve root exits the spinal cord just below the skull, and the C8 nerve root exits just below the neck.
C1 or C2 Injury
An injury at the C1 or C2 usually causes death. Damage in this area can cut off control of both the diaphragm and chest muscles that allow the victim’s lungs to expand. Consequently, breathing ceases more or less immediately. Without emergency treatment, the victim will die within a few minutes.
C3 or C4 Injury
Victims can survive an injury at C3 or C4, but they’ll lose control of most of their bodies. They might retain some control over the neck muscles but will usually lose feeling to anything below the neck, including the shoulders.
Individuals with C3 or C4 injuries typically need a respirator to keep breathing, at least initially. Some can regain the ability to breathe independently after undergoing intensive physical therapy.
C5 or C6 Injury
An injury at C5 or C6 will leave the victim in control of their breathing. At this level, they probably won’t need a respirator. They’ll have some influence over the movement of their shoulders and arms but won’t have any control or sensations in their wrists, hands, or fingers.
C7 or C8 Injury
These injuries produce the least severe forms of quadriplegia. Victims will be able to breathe without a respirator and will retain near-total control over the neck, shoulders, and arms.
In some cases, people with C7 or C8 injuries may experience weakness and loss of dexterity in the hands, wrists, and fingers.
How Can You Get Compensation for a Quadriplegia Injury?
If you’ve been injured in an accident that resulted from someone else’s negligence, you’re likely eligible to pursue compensation.
Provided you can prove negligence, you stand to recover economic damages for losses like medical expenses, lost income, and diminished earning capacity, as well as non-economic damages for the impact of your injuries on your enjoyment of life.Quadriplegia can take a catastrophic toll on your life. Contact our law firm William G. Kolodner Personal Injury Lawyers at (410) 837-2144 to learn whether you can recover compensation for your quadriplegia injury.