What is the difference between paraplegia and paraparesis?

Humans are able to complete daily tasks and to experience the beauty of the world thanks to the functional limbs. This ability can be considered as a blessing yet many may take it for granted by living in unhealthy ways or being reckless in their life. One thing for sure, when a person’s limb is unable to function properly, they will ask a doctor on how to improve their quality of life and what they can do to improve such function. There are many medical terms used to describe many different kinds of conditions affecting the limbs and its function. The term paraparesis and paraplegia may be confusing as they sound almost the same but surely there are great differences between the two.


It is defined as weakness affecting both lower half of the body. Another simpler way to understand paraparesis is partial loss of motor function of the limbs below the pelvis or waist level. Symptoms of paraparesis may occur anytime in life with most patients will face difficulty to walk and changes in the way they walk due to this condition. Apart from walking difficulty, patients with paraparesis may have exaggerated reflexes, spasms and cramps, or even stiffness of the lower limbs. Other symptoms associated with paraparesis are problems with balance, coordination, speech, hearing or brain such as epilepsy and dementia. Paraparesis may happen suddenly or slowly. Sudden paraparesis is often caused by trauma to the spinal cord while slowly progressive paraparesis or developmental one may be caused by cerebral palsy, congenital malformation that happens during young age or neurodegenerative disease that runs in the family.


It is defined as paralysis of the lower half of the body affecting its movement. People with paraplegia are usually unable to move their legs, feet and at times, the abdomen voluntarily. In cases of incomplete paraplegia, only one of the sides of the leg is affected with paralysis. There are many symptoms associated with paraplegia. These symptoms include loss of sensation in the lower body, phantom pains of the lower body, chronic pain, difficulty bowel movement or urination, sexual dysfunction and emotional distress such as depression. Paraplegia is common with people experiencing injury to the brain or spinal cord that functions to control the lower body. Most spinal injuries come from vehicle accidents and falls, common injuries may be from sport accidents and crimes. Apart from injuries being the sudden cause for paraplegia, chronic conditions such as tumours or lesions of the spine and brain, neurological issues like stroke or cerebral palsy and autoimmune disease may lead to development of paraplegia.

In essence, paraplegia and paraparesis are two different forms of disability affecting the lower limbs. Paraparesis is defined as weakness to both lower limbs while paraplegia is paralysis of lower limbs. Both may start off suddenly or develop slowly depending on its cause. To identify a person with paraparesis or paraplegia, they need to be diagnosed by doctors as there is no way of telling if a person is experiencing either of it merely by guessing from the patient’s history itself. Typically, doctors will do neurological examinations and supporting tests such as imaging tests like X-ray, CT scan or MRI scan to get a better look of possible cause for the paralysis or weakness. Some may even run an electromyography test to test for nerve functioning. There is no cure for paraparesis or paraplegia but there are many treatments and supports to help a person have a fulfilling life. This can be physical therapy or specific exercises to improve muscle issues and alleviate pain, usage of mobility devices such as wheelchairs or crutches and medications to improve muscle functions.

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