Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 7: Polio: Infantile Paralysis

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HealthWiki > Disabled Village Children > Chapter 7: Polio: Infantile Paralysis

How to Recognize Paralysis Caused by Polio

a list of muscles weakened by polio
muscles that straighten or bend hip, or that spread or close legs
muscles that straighten knee
muscles that lift foot
muscles behind arm (weakness straightening arm)
back muscles (either side of backbone)
thumb muscles
contractures causing tight cords
  • Paralysis (muscle weakness) usually begins when the child is small, often during an illness like a bad cold with fever and sometimes diarrhea.
  • Paralysis may affect any muscles of the body, but is most common in the legs. Muscles most often affected are shown in the drawing.
  • Paralysis is of the ‘floppy’ type (not stiff). Some muscles may be only partly weakened, others limp or floppy.
  • In time the affected limb may not be able to straighten all the way, due to shortening, or ‘contractures’ of certain muscles.not be able to straighten all the way, due to shortening, or ‘contractures’, of certain muscles.
  • The muscles and bones of the affected limb become thinner than the other limb. The affected limb does not grow as fast, and so is shorter.
  • Unaffected arms or legs often become extra strong to make up for parts that are weak.
  • Intelligence and the mind are not affected.
  • Feeling is not affected.
a hammer hitting a knee
reduced tendon jerks
  • ‘Knee jerks’ and other tendon reflexes in the affected limb are reduced or absent. (In cerebral palsy, ‘knee jerks’ often jump more than normal) Also, the paralysis of polio is ‘floppy’; limbs affected by cerebral palsy often are tense and resist when straightened or bent .
  • The paralysis does not get worse with time. However, secondary problems like contractures, curve of the backbone and dislocations may occur.

Of children who become paralyzed by polio:

30% recover completely in the first weeks or months.
a man walking
30% have mild paralysis.
a woman with a brace
30% have moderate or severe paralysis.
a man with crutches and a woman in a wheelchair
10% die (often because of difficulty breathing or swallowing).
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This page was updated:21 Nov 2019