Paralysis is the loss of function in muscles and the ability to move part of the body. Spinal cord injuries are common causes of paralysis, which may affect various parts of the body and may be permanent or temporary. The cause of injury to the spinal cord that results in paralysis is often an accident but it may also be an intentional attack or assault.
In the maritime industry, accidents are all too common, and the more serious accidents can lead to paralysis. Paralysis resulting from a maritime accident may affect one limb, one side of the body, both legs, or the arms and legs. In some cases, rehab and treatment can restore some function, but in others the damage is permanent. If you suffered paralysis from a maritime workplace accident, you have rights and you may be entitled to some level of compensation.
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Spinal Cord Injuries and Paralysis
One of the leading causes of paralysis is injury to the spinal cord. This is a bundle of nerves and other tissue that runs the length of the spine, supported and protected by the vertebrae of the spinal column. The brain and the spinal cord together is the central nervous system, responsible for sending signals to muscles and organs and receiving messages back. When the spinal cord is damaged, these signals get interrupted to some degree and can impact the ability to control or move muscles.
Physical damage to the spine can be great enough to damage the spinal cord: bruising, stretching, or complete tears. The higher up on the spine that the damage occurs, the greater the injury. Injuries may be complete or incomplete. A complete injury leads to paralysis on both sides of the body, while an incomplete injury may cause paralysis on just one side or a lesser degree of dysfunction but not complete paralysis.
What Causes Spinal Cord Injuries and Paralysis
Paralysis can be caused by medical conditions like a stroke or multiple sclerosis, but spinal cord damage that leads to paralysis is caused by some kind of physical trauma. A force to the spine, back, or neck can cause the spinal cord to stretch or tear. Leading causes of this kind of damage that often leads to paralysis include car accidents, falls, birth injuries, assaults, and trampoline accidents.
Types of Paralysis
Paralysis is the loss of control and strength in a muscle or muscle group in the body. Different types of paralysis are categorized by degree of loss of function and by where in the body it occurs. By degree of paralysis, the condition may be:
- Complete. Complete paralysis results in no ability to control a muscle.
- Partial. Partial paralysis retains some ability to control the muscles, also called paresis.
- Permanent. With permanent paralysis there will be no regain of control.
- Temporary. If some or all control returns the paralysis is temporary.
- Spastic. Spastic paralysis results when some control is lost and the muscles become tense and cause uncontrollable spasms.
- Flaccid. When the muscles get weak and are difficult to control, it is flaccid paralysis.
Paralysis can also be described based on where it occurs in the body. These are examples of generalized paralysis, in which larger muscle groups are affected, as opposed to just one muscle or small group:
- Monoplegia. This is paralysis in just one arm or leg.
- Diplegia. Diplegia is paralysis of both sides of the body, but in just one type of muscle, such as both arms.
- Hemiplegia. Hemiplegia impacts just one side of the body.
- Paraplegia. This is the paralysis of both legs, and possibly part of the abdomen or trunk.
- Quadriplegia. Quadriplegia is loss of function in both arms and legs, and potentially the entire body from the neck down.
Treatment and Rehabilitation for Paralysis
Unfortunately there is no cure for paralysis and no way to reverse damage to the spinal cord that causes paralysis. Sometimes recovery occurs to some degree or entirely, but why or how this happens isn’t understood. In the event of an accident that causes a spinal injury, emergency treatment is essential to prevent more damage. This involves stabilizing the body, ensuring the person is breathing, and preventing shock from setting in.
If there is damage to bone or cartilage, surgery can help correct and fix it. After emergency treatment and any needed surgeries, the patient will likely need some degree of rehabilitation. This could go on for months or years if the damage is severe or less time if the injury is less serious. A person with some degree of paralysis can benefit from physical therapy, occupational therapy, mobility aids, assistive devices, and other technology or equipment that makes moving and performing activities easier.
Paralysis in the Maritime Industry
In the maritime industry many workplaces are inherently dangerous. Even with good safety practices in place, accidents can happen and many of these have the potential to cause damage to the spine and subsequent paralysis. Falls, for instance, are common from ships, walkways, and in port settings. These can lead to back and spine injuries. Another possibility on ships, in ports, on docks, and on offshore rigs is that a worker will be struck and hurt by cargo, equipment, or a vehicle.
The causes of these types of accidents demonstrate that most could have been prevented. For instance, when crew is not adequately trained in how to secure cargo, or they are put under a time pressure, cargo may come loose, shift, and strike and hurt a worker. Another issue may be poor communication between crew members that leads to an accident. Collisions between ships or between a ship and a bridge or dock, or grounding of a ship, can also cause workers to be violently thrown against a hard surface or object, which may cause a paralysis spinal injury.
If You Suffer Paralysis on the Job
An accident that leads to any degree of paralysis can be devastating. You may lose mobility, the ability to continue doing your job, or the ability to work at all. Paralysis can also lead to family struggles, difficulties with money, and mental health issues, like depression. The costs of rehabilitation and necessary equipment can be massive. If you suffered an accident in a maritime job that caused you to become paralyzed, you may be owed compensation.
Thanks to the Jones Act, you can seek compensation from your employer if you can prove that there was any degree of employer negligence in your accident. This could be lack of safety gear or training, no maintenance of equipment, or lack of proper navigation equipment, for instance. If you work offshore or as a longshoreman, there are also laws that ensure you can access workers’ compensation. To help you navigate these laws and your rights as a maritime worker, get in touch with a maritime lawyer.