Comprehensive Comparison Guide: Paralysis vs. Paresis

July 23, 2019
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Paralysis vs. Paresis 

While paresis and paralysis are two different conditions, there is some overlap in how patients are affected. So we are going to address both conditions by definition and in their characteristics to make it clear how they are different as well as in what ways they are similar. As always, we intend to help improve the ability of our readers to continue thriving with paralysis. So read on to learn more about paralysis and paresis and the differences between these two conditions. 

Paresis Medical Term Definition

Paresis is a condition that involves impaired movement due to weakness. A person living with paresis may lose between some and all voluntary movement in a particular limb or another part of the body. The name given to paresis changes depending on the part(s) of the body being affected. For example, paraparesis means that both legs are affected by this weakness and impaired voluntary movement. 

Hemiparesis refers to paresis on one side of the body. A less used term is general paresis. This would apply to whole body paresis that would occur when syphilis is left untreated. However, the term is not really in use anymore because modern treatments have virtually eliminated this type of paresis. Paresis is not limited to the limbs but can also affect the vocal cords, stomach, eyes, and other parts of the body. 

Causes of Paresis

What can cause paresis? Here are a few examples:

  • Spinal cord injury (SCI) – Not all SCIs result in paralysis. A partial injury may allow a person still to have some slight movement. Specific nerves may continue to be intact, causing weakness but not complete paralysis. 
  • Stroke – While a stroke can cause severe enough damage to the brain to result in paralysis, sometimes there is less damage, and paresis is the result.
  • Pinched nerve – Sciatica is a good example of a pinched nerve leading to paresis. If sciatica is severe enough, you may have difficulty feeling or moving one leg and foot. This can lead to foot drop, which can make it difficult to walk.
  • Peripheral nerve injuries – Sometimes, the nerves are injured in a limb rather than in the brain or spine. Trauma can impair the function of a particular limb or another part of the body.
  • Surgery complication – Following surgery, you may find that the muscles at the location that was operated on do not respond as fully or quickly as before the surgery. 

While physical therapy may be able to help some patients to restore more mobility, for other patients, paresis is a permanent condition. In such cases, physical or occupational therapy may still be able to help you to maintain the muscle function that you still retain and can help teach you to perform daily tasks on your own despite paresis. 

What Is Paralysis?

If paresis is weakness that takes away between some and all voluntary movement, then paralysis is the worst level of paresis. It is when all voluntary movement becomes impossible in the region. Plegia is the medical term for paralysis. Therefore, a person living a paraplegic life means that he or she cannot voluntarily move either leg. Hemiplegia involves paralysis on one side of the body. 

As with paresis, there are many parts of the body that become entirely paralyzed. There are also a number of different conditions that can cause paralysis along with trauma to the spine. Let’s discuss some of these paralysis causes. 

Causes of Paralysis 

Most causes of paralysis fall into one of four categories:

  • Spinal cord injury – If the spinal cord is severed, this cuts off communication to the nerves in certain parts of the body. The location of the spinal cord injury will determine how much of the body can no longer be moved voluntarily. 
  • Stroke – The severity of a stroke, combined with the parts of the brain that are damaged, will determine the degree and location of paralysis. Stroke paralysis is more likely to affect one side of the body.
  • Multiple sclerosis – As MS progresses, the body does more and more damage to its own nerves. As the nerves are damaged and scar tissue forms, paralysis can occur. 
  • Cerebral palsy – Depending on the location of the damage to the brain, cerebral palsy can result in various degrees and locations of paralysis. 

This isn’t a comprehensive list of every possible cause of paralysis, but many people living a paraplegic life or with some other form of paralysis are in one of these four categories. Whether paralysis or paresis is impacting your life, what can you do to thrive rather than just survive? 

Thriving with Paralysis or Paresis 

The fact is that losing some voluntary movement can affect a person in similar ways to losing all voluntary movement in a particular quadrant or region. Therefore, whether you are living with paresis or paralysis, it is our hope that we can help you to thrive and live your best life. We do this by providing resources for survivors who are living with paralysis, for spouses of individuals living with paralysis, and for caregivers

You still have a purpose! Finding that purpose and filling your life with hope can help you to thrive with paralysis. For daily posts that can give you just the boost you need for today, follow us on Facebook. From the support of meeting and speaking with those who have a shared experience to spirituality to good, clean humor – there are plenty of ways to find inspiration and to become an inspiration to others!

Also, I want to encourage you to check out our Free E-Books by clicking the images below:

paralysis vs. paresis

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About the Author: Bill Davis

Dr. Bill Davis survived a spinal cord injury on November 26, 2011. After years of hopelessness he found a renewed purpose and is now on a mission to share hope and healing with the paralysis community for the glory of God.

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