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What is hemiplegia?

By Matt Lalande in Brain Injuries, Personal Injury, Spinal Cord Injuries on April 07, 2021

What is hemiplegia?

Hemiplegia is derived from the Greek work “hemi” meaning half. Hemiplegia is a medical condition that is typically caused by a brain injury or spinal injury that leads to severe or total loss of strength or paralysis on one side or a person’s body. Hemiplegia can also be caused by brain cancer, MS, stroke, spina bifida or muscular dystrophy.

Hemiplegia is a permanent condition, and there is currently no sure. The degree of hemiplegic impairment depends on the causal location or extent of the injury that a person suffer.

Our firm of personal injury lawyers in Hamilton specializes in spinal cord injury and brain injury cases, and are well versed in the various outcomes and factors that can occur with these catastrophic injuries. We understand the devastation this has done to your life, and that of your family, and are focused on providing as much information as we can to help you make an informed decision about your next steps. If you or a loved one has suffered from hemiplegia which is caused by a brain injury or spinal cord injury – call us today. We can ensure that you not only obtain the justice you deserve, but also the compensation required to make sure that your medical needs are met and that you are taken care of financially, for life.

Hemiplegia Defined

Hemiplegia is a condition wherein the individual suffers paralysis or impairment on one side of the body in the arms, legs, feet, and hands, usually due to interrupted blood flow to the brain. This may include full paralysis on one side or paralysis in one limb or extremity due to the fact that nerve damage has caused an interruption in the signals to these parts of the body. Often, hemiplegia is associated with hemiparesis, which involves muscle weakness on one side of the body (but not full paralysis).

There are two categorizations for hemiplegia depending on the cause: congenital hemiplegia and acquired hemiplegia. Congenital hemiplegia occurs in individuals who are born with a defect or brain damage due to a birth injury, and commonly develops in childhood. Individuals with neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy may also experience congenital hemiplegia. 

Acquired hemiplegia occurs later in life, not genetically related and occurs as the result of an accident such as a car accident, trauma such as a puncture or injury caused by blunt force, a brain injection, or a neurological injury such as a stroke.

What Causes Hemiplegia?

Most causes of traumatic or acquired hemiplegia are caused by a traumatic brain injury or a spinal cord injury. It’s considered to be a type of incomplete spinal cord injury that impacts one side of the body.

Spinal cord injuries and brain or head injuries are commonly caused by high-velocity car accidents, particularly head-on collisions and t-bone accidents, but there are a variety of other situations that could put someone at risk. Slip and fall accidents are a leading cause for both of these types of injuries, followed by pedestrian accidents, motorcycle accidents, trucking accidents, and bicycle accidents.

There are also multiple types of non-traumatic hemiplegia typically caused by cerebral palsy, Bell’s palsy, strokes, or other medical conditions. These include spastic hemiplegia (the damaged muscles are constantly spastic or contracted), cerebral hemiplegia (caused by brain conditions), and facial hemiplegia (where the paralysis occurs on one side of the face).

Also, brain lesions, brain diseases, brain infections, cardiovascular problems or loss of oxygen to the brain (from choking, drowning or cardiovascular problems) can lead to hemiplegia. The following medical video is a great explanation on hemiplegia:


What are some common symptoms of Hemiplegia?

Hemiplegia can affect either side of a person’s body. Most times, the condition affects one side of the body unevenly. Symptoms can range from sporadic to severe and extensive. Symptoms are typically more severe than hemiparesis, and can include:

  • Muscle stiffness on one side of the body
  • Weakness, or spasticity on one side of the body
  • Difficulty walking 
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty grabbing or holding objects 
  • Difficulty or loss of fine motor skills 
  • cardiovascular problems
  • Tingling on the affected side
  • Difficulty breathing, speaking, or swallowing 
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control 
  • Pusher Syndrome, wherein the individual leans toward the paralyzed side of the body
  • Loss of the ability to stand

Hemiplegia & Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal hemiplegia, also known as Brown-Sèquard Syndrome, is an incomplete spinal cord injury that occurs when one side of the spinal cord is damaged. As a result, the victim may experience different symptoms on each side of the body: the side of the body where the injury occurred will experience paralysis, while on the other side typically experiences loss of pain sensation and/or temperature.

The most common area of injury that leads to spinal hemiplegia is injury to the cervical spine (neck), usually above the C6 portion starting at the top of the shoulder. This is because the cervical spine is responsible for sending nerve signals through the body through the rest of the spinal cord, thus controlling the extremities. 

What is Hemiplegia?

Hemiplegia and Traumatic Brain Injury

The brain is divided into two halves: the left and right hemispheres. Each side controls the opposite side of the body: the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body. Therefore, when hemiplegia is caused by a brain injury, brain damage, or brain infection, the victim will experience symptoms on the opposite side of the body from the side where the injury occurs. This is referred to as contralateral hemiplegia.

A sudden forceful blow, such as that from a car accident, can cause the brain to jolt rapidly, hitting the sides of the skull. When the brain is only damaged on one side, hemiplegia can occur. In some cases, when an individual experiences a brain or head injury that causes a hemorrhage, a brain infection, or other damage, hemiplegia can develop if the issue is not immediately remedied. 

Symptoms of hemiplegia caused by a brain injury typically include the above listed symptoms, but these individuals may also experience symptoms of brain damage. These include:

  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures 
  • Personality or behaviour issues 
  • Speech issues 
  • Lack of spatial awareness 

Often, hemiplegia due to a brain injury can occur alongside epilepsy because the same type of brain damage causes both conditions.

Prognosis and Treatment of Hemiplegia

At this time, there is no cure for hemiplegia and victims may often be impaired permanently. Therefore, recovery plans typically focus on assisting the individual in regaining their independence, mobility, and confidence to improve their quality of life. Treatment options for hemiplegia are dependent on the extent of the damage and the location of the injury. 

Physiotherapy: Victims with hemiplegia may undergo physiotherapy to regain mobility and balance, learn to walk, strengthen their muscles, and improve coordination.

Occupational therapy: With occupational therapy, hemiplegia victims are able to learn to adjust to the function of their injury and retrain to perform daily, everyday tasks.

Modified constraint-induced movement therapy (mCIMT): This type of physical therapy involves restraining the side of the body that has not been paralyzed in order to allow the injured side to compensate and improve function, strength, and mobility. Research has shown that mCIMT has a positive impact on individuals with upper body hemiplegia.

Assistive devices: Many individuals with hemiplegia may need to rely on equipment and assistive devices to promote walking, muscle function, and balance. Assistive devices may include a cane, brace, wheelchair, or walker.

Electrical stimulation: In some cases, particularly those where the hemiplegia is caused by a brain injury, a specialist may utilize electrical stimulation to contract and stimulate the muscles that the body is otherwise unable to control. 

The Road to Recovery is a Permanent One

Individuals with hemiplegia often experience difficulty performing tasks that require depth perception, coordination, and/or bilateral function (such as tasks requiring both hands). For example, an individual with hemiplegia may have difficulty typing on a keyboard, operating machinery, or gripping items to carry.

Physical limitations may also prevent the victim from accessing their work space, performing physical tasks that require balance (such as stacking items on a ladder), or activities that require walking. Cognitive limitations may impair an individual’s ability to concentrate, focus, and maintain work productivity.

Outside of the workplace, individuals with hemiplegia often experience limitations in their everyday lives, from daily tasks such as brushing their teeth or cutting food to leisure activities such as recreational sports, card games, or swimming. Long-term complications may also arise, such as incontinence, muscle atrophy, permanent respiratory issues, or permanent muscle spasticity. 

All of these factors can make life extremely difficult for a hemiplegia victim. The inability to work, coupled with loss of enjoyment and loss of independence can lead to a decreased quality of life as well as psychological distress. Many individuals undergo a grieving process for the life they once lived, and the life they had to give up with no preparation or warning. You should not be under significant financial distress on top of this difficult situation, and a personal injury claim for financial benefits can help you take that burden off your shoulders.

Hemiplegia caused by Negligence

If you or a loved one were in an accident caused by someone’s negligence and are suffering from hemiplegia, you can (and should) hold the at-fault party accountable for your injury. You should not have to pay the price for someone else’s carelessness.

Matt Lalande is a Hamilton Personal Injury Lawyer who has been practicing personal injury law throughout Ontario since 2003. He has assisted victims who have suffered severe, life-changing, catastrophic injuries hold negligent parties accountable for their reckless actions. He has worked with many brain injury and spinal cord injury victims over the years, providing reliable and helpful assistance throughout every step of the recovery process – from coordinating treatment plans to negotiating maximum settlements in and outside of the courtroom.

If you have any questions please call us no matter where you are in Ontario at 1-844-LALANDE or local in the Hamilton/GTA at 905-333-8888 to book your consultation, or request a call back through our online contact form here. We serve clients locally in Hamilton and Niagara, as well as across Ontario. If you are not local, call us toll-free at 1-844-LALANDE (525-2633).

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