Physical disabilities: conditions
A physical disability may exist from birth or be acquired later in life. Physical disabilities can often have an impact on your mobility or dexterity. This can include walking, gross motor skills, bladder control or total/partial loss of a part of the body.
Below is a list of common physical disabilities along with links to sources of relevant information on the NHS website:
Amputation. An amputation is the surgical removal of a part of the body. Approximately 5,000 to 6,000 limb amputations are carried out in England every year.
Acquired spinal injury (paraplegia or quadriplegia). When the spinal cord is damaged, the communication between the brain and the rest of the body is disrupted. This leads to a loss of movement and sensation from below the level of injury. Damage to the spinal cord can be caused by trauma (like an accident) or from an infection or disease.
Arthritis. Arthritis is a musculoskeletal condition that falls into five main groups: inflammatory arthritis, degenerative or mechanical arthritis, soft tissue musculoskeletal pain, back pain and connective tissue disease (CTD).
Back pain. This is a very common condition and is usually easy to treat, although some cases can be persistent and may need ongoing management.
Bowel incontinence. Sometimes known as faecal incontinence, this is when you have problems controlling your bowels. It can be very upsetting and embarrassing, but it's important to get medical advice if you have it, because treatment can help.
Cancer. A condition where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancerous cells can invade and destroy surrounding healthy tissue, including organs. Cancer sometimes begins in one part of the body before spreading to other areas. This process is known as metastasis. More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime.
Cerebral palsy. A condition that affects muscle control and movement, cerebral palsy is caused by an injury to the brain before, during or after birth. There are three main types of cerebral palsy: spastic cerebral palsy, dyskinetic cerebral palsy and ataxic cerebral palsy.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). This is a long-term illness with a wide range of symptoms, the most common being extreme tiredness, as well as feeling generally unwell. It's more common in women and tends to develop between your mid-20s and mid-40s. The severity of symptoms can vary from day to day or even within a day.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This term is used for a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties, including: emphysema (damage to the air sacs in the lungs) and chronic bronchitis (long-term inflammation of the airways). It mainly affects middle-aged or older adults who smoke. Many people don't realise they have it. Symptoms gradually tend to get worse over time, but treatment can help keep the condition under control.
Coronary heart disease. This is a term that describes what happens when your heart's blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries. It is a major cause of death both in the UK and worldwide. Lifestyle factors and other conditions, such as: smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, are influenced by heart disease.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This is a blood clot that develops within a deep vein in the body. It usually occurs in the leg, where a larger vein runs through the muscles of the calf and the thigh. It can cause pain and swelling in the leg and may lead to other health complications.
Diabetes. This is a condition that causes a person's blood sugar level to become too high. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes (where the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin); type 2 diabetes (where the body doesn't produce enough insulin, or the body's cells don't react to insulin). Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1. In the UK, around 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2. Both types of diabetes can be managed with medication and healthier lifestyle choices.
Embolism. An embolism is a blocked artery caused by a foreign body, such as a blood clot or an air bubble. Two of the most serious conditions caused by an embolism are: stroke (where the blood supply to the brain is cut off), and pulmonary embolism (where a foreign body blocks the artery that carries blood from the heart to the lungs).
Gout. A condition which causes sudden severe joint pain, gout can be difficult to diagnose. It most commonly occurs in men, particularly as they age. Those who are overweight, or drink alcohol are also at higher risk. Gout is treatable, but can be a recurring condition.
High blood pressure. Also known as hypertension, this condition rarely has noticeable symptoms. But if untreated, it increases your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes. More than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure. The only way to know if you are one of them is to have your blood pressure checked (if you are over 40 it’s recommended to check every five years).
Kyphosis. This is a deep curvature of the spine that causes the top of the back to appear more rounded than normal. It can cause back pain and stiffness as well as tiredness. In rarer cases it can cause difficulty with breathing and eating.
Low blood pressure. Also known as ‘hypotension’, this condition doesn't always cause symptoms, but you may need treatment if it does. You should get your blood pressure checked if you regularly experience: light-headedness or dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, weakness, confusion or fainting.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is a chronic and inflammatory disease in which the coating (myelin) surrounding individual nerves is damaged. This disrupts the transfer of nerve signals, which, in turn, can cause a range of symptoms such as muscular movement, imbalance and vision problems.
Muscular Dystrophy. Muscular Dystrophy is a group of inherited genetic conditions that causes the muscles to weaken. It is a progressive condition caused by mutations in the genes, and it begins by affecting a particular group of muscles before affecting the muscles more widely.
Post-polio syndrome. This is a neurological condition that can occur in people who have had polio. Symptoms include increasing weakness, fatigue, pain and stamina issues.
Spina Bifida. This is a birth defect in which the spinal cord and surrounding bones (vertebrae) have not developed properly. As such, there is a gap or split in the spine. There are three main types: spina bifida occulta, meningocele, and myelomeningocele.