Quadriplegia, also known as tetraplegia, is a symptom in which a human experiences partial or complete paralysis from the neck down.

It is caused by damage to the brain or to the spinal cord at a high level (e.g. spinal cord injuries secondary to an injury to the cervical spine). The injury causes the victim to lose total or partial use of the arms and legs. The condition is also termed tetraplegia; both terms mean “paralysis of four limbs”, however tetraplegia is becoming the more accepted term for this condition. Tetraplegia, used commonly in Europe, is the more etymologically correct version since both “tetra” and “plegia” are Greek roots whereas “quadra” is a Latin root.

There are about 5000 cervical spinal cord injuries per year in the United States and about 1000 per year in the UK. In 1988, it was estimated that lifetime care of a 27-year-old rendered tetraparetic was about US $1 million and that the total national costs were US $5.6 billion per year.

Delayed diagnosis of cervical spine injury has grave consequences for the victim. About one in twenty cervical fractures are missed, and about two-thirds of these patients suffer further spinal cord damage as a result. About 30% of cases of delayed diagnosis of cervical spine injury develop permanent neurological deficits.

In some rare cases, through intensive rehabilitation, slight movement can be regained through “rewiring” neural connections as in the case of late actor Christopher Reeve.