What Paralysis Feels Like and What to Do About It (2023)

Paralysis describes complete or partial weakness of the body or part of the body. It can occur suddenly or gradually as a result of conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, or nerves.

If you or someone else experiences paralysis, it’s important to get medical attention right away—it could be caused by a health emergency, such as a stroke or damage to the spine.

This article will describe the symptoms of paralysis, types, possible causes, diagnosis, and treatment, and when to see a healthcare provider.

What Paralysis Feels Like and What to Do About It (1)

Symptoms of Paralysis

Paralysis feels like you can’t move part of your body the way you want to, no matter how hard you try. It is an alarming symptom that’s hard to ignore.Paralysis may involve an arm or a leg, or it may involve the hand, foot, or face.

Symptoms that commonly occur along with paralysis include:

  • Numbness or tingling of the weak part of the body
  • Loss of sensation of the weak part of the body
  • Floppiness of the weak area of the body

Paralysis is not usually associated with pain, jerking, or tremors. After weeks or months, painful spasticity—abnormal muscle tightness—can develop in the paralyzed limb.

Types of Paralysis

Paralysis can include "paresis," which is a partial weakness of part of the body. Complete weakness of part of the body is called "plegia."

Types of paralysis include:

  • Hemiparesis or hemiplegia: Weakness of the face, arm, and/or leg on one side of the body
  • Paraplegia: Weakness below the waist, may include loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Quadriplegia: Weakness of all four limbs
  • Monoplegia: Weakness of one limb or part of one limb
  • Gastroparesis: Diminished movements of the digestive system, which can cause constipation or vomiting
  • Bell’s palsy: A type of facial paralysis, usually of one side of the face

Causes of Paralysis

Generally, paralysis or paresis of the face or the whole arm or leg will only involve one side of the body, and this is usually caused by a health condition affecting the brain or spinal cord. Often, paralysis or paresis of the foot or hand may involve both sides of the body, and it’s usually caused by a health condition affecting a nerve, like peripheral neuropathy.

Many different conditions can cause paralysis, including:

  • Stroke: An interruption of blood flow in an artery in the brain can affect areas of the brain that control motor movement. Heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and uncontrolled diabetes are common risk factors.
  • Multiple sclerosis: This inflammatory condition causes recurrent episodes of weakness, coordination changes, and more due to demyelination (damage to the protective sheath of nerve fibers) in the brain and spinal cord.
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome: This disease causes weakness due to inflammatory demyelination of the peripheral motor nerves, usually starting in the legs and moving up the body.
  • Herniated spinal disk: This occurs when a cartilage disk in the spinal column moves out of place, usually due to degenerative disease or trauma.
  • Traumatic injuryof the brain or spinal cord
  • Brain tumor or spinal cord tumor
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Many disorders can cause diminished function of the peripheral nerves that control movement, including uncontrolled diabetes, chronic alcohol use, and vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Severe infection or inflammation of the brain or spinal cord
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): This rare disease causes degeneration of a specific part of the spine. It generally affects people over age 50 and progresses within a few years.
  • Post-seizure paralysis: After a seizure, some people experience paralysis of one limb on one side of the body, lasting from minutes up to a few hours.
  • Hereditary issues like spinal muscular atrophy: This condition is caused by a genetic defect that impairs the production of a protein that is necessary for a healthy spine.

These issues may cause permanent paralysis, but prompt treatment can lessen the long-term severity of the weakness.

What Medications Cause Paralysis?

In general, medications don’t usually cause paralysis as a side effect. Some medications used for surgical anesthesia are muscle paralytics that temporarily paralyze the muscles during surgery. The paralytic effects are temporary, and strength should return once the medication is stopped.

Paralytics Are Medications Given During Surgery and General Anesthesia

(Video) Paralyzed from the Neck Down: Julian's Story

How to Treat Paralysis

Paralysis can be treated with several medical interventions. The short-term treatment involves treating the cause.

Examples of treatments for paralysis include:

  • Disease-modifying therapy for prevention of multiple sclerosis exacerbations (when symptoms worsen) and immune suppression for treatment of acute multiple sclerosis exacerbations
  • Medication to treat blood clots during an acute stroke(loss of blood flow and oxygen to the brain)
  • Repair of a traumatic spine injury
  • Removal of a tumor, hematoma (collection of blood), or infectious abscess (a pocket of pus) that’s causing paralysis

Physical therapy and rehabilitation are a vital part of recovery and increased function if you have experienced paralysis due to any cause.

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Paralysis?

If you’ve experienced paralysis, you will need a thorough medical evaluation. This will include a comprehensive neurological examination, which involves steps such as checking your reflexes, strength testing, sensory examination, and more.

A general sense of fatigue can make you feel weak, but this is not the same as paralysis, which is due to a problem with neurological control of a muscle or muscles. The difference will be apparent based on your physical examination.

Other tests that you would need will be determined based on the pattern of your paralysis and may include:

  • Brain imaging: Such as brain computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Spine imaging: Such as spine CT or MRI
  • Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction study (NCV): Tests that use electrodes to record electrical signals in your nerves and muscles
  • Lumbar puncture: A needle inserted between two vertebrae to obtain cerebrospinal fluid for analysis

The results of these tests can help your healthcare providers distinguish the type of condition that’s causing your paralysis.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Decreased muscle control or changes in sensation, vision, or speech can indicate a serious medical issue and you need to get medical attention promptly.

Summary

Paralysis can be a symptom of different conditions that affect the brain, nerves, and spinal cord. It is a serious symptom that can affect one or more areas of the body. The pattern of paralysis often corresponds to the cause. Generally, diagnostic testing is necessary. Treatment can often reduce long-term weakness, and rehabilitation is usually necessary.

A Word From Verywell

If you have developed paralysis, it is important that you get prompt medical attention. Paralysis is a symptom of serious neurological conditions. You will need to have medical treatment to prevent the condition causing it from worsening. Paralysis is serious, but you can have a good outcome with consistent rehabilitation and medical care.

Frequently Asked Questions

3 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Chen YJ, Tang W, Ionescu-Ittu R, Ayyagari R, Wu E, Huh SY, Parkman HP. Health-care resource use and costs associated with diabetic and idiopathic gastroparesis: A claims analysis of the first 3years following the diagnosis of gastroparesis. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2022:e14366. doi:10.1111/nmo.14366

  2. Wang Q, Chen FY, Ling ZM, Su WF, Zhao YY, Chen G, Wei ZY. The effect of Schwann cells/Schwann cell-like cells on cell therapy for peripheral neuropathy. Front Cell Neurosci. 2022;16:836931. doi:10.3389/fncel.2022.836931

  3. Shoman A, Hassan A, Kassab A. A study on the effect of 850 nm low-level diode laser versus electrical stimulation in facial nerve regeneration for patients with Bell's Palsy. ORL J Otorhinolaryngol Relat Spec. 2022:1-8. doi:10.1159/000521789

(Video) Paralysis by Overwhelm

What Paralysis Feels Like and What to Do About It (2)

By Heidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in the field of brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.

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FAQs

What it feels like to be paralyzed? ›

Someone who is paralyzed because of a birth defect or sudden injury often can't feel or move anything at all in their affected body parts. Someone paralyzed by a medical condition, like multiple sclerosis (MS), might feel tingling or muscle weakness.

What do you feel before being paralyzed? ›

The most common paralysis symptom is the loss of muscle function in one or more parts of the body. Other symptoms that may accompany paralysis include: numbness or pain in the affected muscles. muscle weakness.

Is being paralyzed painful? ›

A type of chronic pain called neurogenic or neuropathic pain often accompanies paralysis – it is a cruel irony for people who lack sensation to experience the agony of pain.

How can I stop paralysis naturally? ›

Dietary Tips For Paralysis:

Avoid foods that are bitter, acidic, or pungent. Include foods that are sweet, sour, and salty. Nuts are very good options to include in your daily diet. While it is ok to consume rice and wheat in your diet, avoid barley, millet, and rye.

How do you stop paralysis? ›

To prevent paralysis, individuals must follow the rules mentioned below, Individuals must maintain a balanced diet. Individuals must be active and engage in some exercise for at least 30 minutes a day that can positively affect blood pressure, heart, cholesterol, and body weight. Individuals must quit smoking.

Can you recover from paralysis? ›

While there may not currently be a cure that can reverse every type of paralysis, in some cases feeling and movement can return to an affected body part. Even in situations when this is not possible, therapies and assistive devices can improve a person's quality of life.

What is the main reason for paralysis? ›

Most paralysis is due to strokes or injuries such as spinal cord injury or a broken neck. Other causes of paralysis include: Nerve diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Autoimmune diseases such as Guillain-Barre syndrome.

What can cause sudden paralysis? ›

Sudden paralysis causes may include:
  • Trauma, including spinal cord injury.
  • Stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Brain hemorrhage (bleeding)
  • Infections, including tetanus and West Nile virus.
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a rare autoimmune disorder possibly triggered by an infection.
  • Toxins such as venom or poison.

How long does it take for paralysis to heal? ›

Full recovery from a paralytic attack can take around 6 months to 1 year depending on the severity of the condition as well as the part of the brain affected. However, some patients may require lifelong assistance as they may not recover completely from the attack.

Do paralyzed people feel touch? ›

Study Shows Sense of Touch Can Be Returned to Those with Spinal Cord Injury. The lack of sensation that accompanies paralysis is an additional burden that has, until now, been a problem that science has not been able to remedy.

Can paralyzed legs walk again? ›

Many factors play a role in regaining the ability to walk after a spinal cord injury. Fortunately, it is possible for many SCI survivors. There is potential to walk again after SCI because the spinal cord has the ability to reorganize itself and make adaptive changes called neuroplasticity.

What are the 5 types of paralysis? ›

There are four types of paralysis — Monoplegia, Hemiplegia, Paraplegia and Quadriplegia.

What is the fastest way to cure paralysis? ›

There isn't a cure for permanent paralysis. The spinal cord can't heal itself. Temporary paralysis like Bell's palsy often goes away over time without treatment. Physical, occupational and speech therapy can accommodate paralysis and provide exercises, adaptive and assistive devices to improve function.

Which is the best medicine for paralysis? ›

Aconite napellus is considered as the sovereign remedy for almost every species of paralysis in homoepathy. Gelsemium sempervirens (Gels.) is another plant used in homeopathic for treatment of paralysis.

How is paralysis diagnosed? ›

How is paralysis diagnosed? Diagnosing paralysis is often easy, especially when your loss of muscle function is obvious. For internal body parts where paralysis is more difficult to identify, your doctor may use X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, or other imaging studies.

What are the four types of paralysis? ›

What Are the Four Types of Paralysis?
  • Monoplegia.
  • Hemiplegia.
  • Paraplegia.
  • Quadriplegia/tetraplegia.

Does stress cause paralysis? ›

Some individuals are more susceptible to periods of temporary paralysis after exposure to certain triggers, such as stress, trauma, or anxiety. The periodic paralysis can result in severe muscle weakness and the partial or complete inability to move parts of the body.

What happens before paralysis? ›

A tingling or numbing sensation occurs in the body part before the complete paralysis sets in. You'll gradually lose function in a specific or widespread area of your body if you are experiencing paralysis.

How long do paralyzed people live? ›

Life expectancy depends on the severity of the injury, where on the spine the injury occurs and age. Life expectancy after injury ranges from 1.5 years for a ventilator-dependent patient older than 60 to 52.6 years for a 20-year-old patient with preserved motor function.

How do you know if your paralysis is permanent? ›

Permanent paralysis is when a paralyzing condition does not go away or fade over time. Even with treatment, a person suffering permanent paralysis may never regain control over their lost motor functions—even with therapy and treatment.

Can a paralyzed person feel their legs? ›

In the case of spinal cord injuries, the most common form of partial paralysis is paraplegia, which means paralysis of the legs, feet, and most areas below the waist. The effects of paraplegia vary depending on the location of the injury, but generally include: Inability to feel or move your legs or feet.

What does it mean when you feel paralyzed mentally? ›

It's that feeling that comes over some of us in a moment of crisis or maybe in its aftermath. An inability to move, think, or even speak.

What happens before paralysis? ›

A tingling or numbing sensation occurs in the body part before the complete paralysis sets in. You'll gradually lose function in a specific or widespread area of your body if you are experiencing paralysis.

Can paraplegics feel touch? ›

Study Shows Sense of Touch Can Be Returned to Those with Spinal Cord Injury. The lack of sensation that accompanies paralysis is an additional burden that has, until now, been a problem that science has not been able to remedy.

Why does anxiety paralyze? ›

Living with anxiety engages your autonomic nervous system (ANS), also known as the fight, flight, or freeze response. The “freeze” response can feel like paralysis — physical, emotional, or cognitive. If you're feeling this way, there's nothing wrong with you. It's a natural response, and it's possible to manage it.

Can stress paralyze you? ›

Some individuals are more susceptible to periods of temporary paralysis after exposure to certain triggers, such as stress, trauma, or anxiety. The periodic paralysis can result in severe muscle weakness and the partial or complete inability to move parts of the body.

What can cause sudden paralysis? ›

Sudden paralysis causes may include:
  • Trauma, including spinal cord injury.
  • Stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Brain hemorrhage (bleeding)
  • Infections, including tetanus and West Nile virus.
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a rare autoimmune disorder possibly triggered by an infection.
  • Toxins such as venom or poison.

How do I overcome anxiety and paralysis? ›

You can seek treatment for your anxiety and more specifically for the paralysis you are experiencing. Treatment can take the form of therapy, medication, and mindfulness exercises. While it can seem daunting, it's important to take steps and seek professional help.

What is the fastest way to cure paralysis? ›

There isn't a cure for permanent paralysis. The spinal cord can't heal itself. Temporary paralysis like Bell's palsy often goes away over time without treatment. Physical, occupational and speech therapy can accommodate paralysis and provide exercises, adaptive and assistive devices to improve function.

Which medicine is best for paralysis? ›

Aconite napellus is considered as the sovereign remedy for almost every species of paralysis in homoepathy.

What are the four types of paralysis? ›

What Are the Four Types of Paralysis?
  • Monoplegia.
  • Hemiplegia.
  • Paraplegia.
  • Quadriplegia/tetraplegia.

Can you feel if paralyzed? ›

Paralysis is a loss of muscle function in part of your body. It can be localized or generalized, partial or complete, and temporary or permanent. Paralysis can affect any part of your body at any time in your life. If you experience it, you probably won't feel pain in the affected areas.

Do paralyzed legs get cold? ›

In addition, nearly 85% of body heat is generated by muscle contractions. Therefore, if your leg muscles cannot move, your body cannot produce enough heat on its own, and your feet will quickly become cold. Limited mobility can also cause fluids to pool in lower extremities, which causes edema (swelling).

Can a paralyzed person still feel their legs? ›

While the stereotype of a paraplegic is of someone in a wheelchair who cannot move his or her arms or legs, cannot feel anything below the level of injury, and cannot walk, paraplegics actually have a range of capabilities that may change over time, both as their health evolves and their physical therapy helps them ...

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