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Can Piercings Paralyze? A Look at this Common Myth

“I heard that if this piercing is done wrong, it will paralyze you!” I hear this all too often working as a body piercer. About pretty much every piercing we offer, someone somewhere has been told it will paralyze them. It’s a genuine fear many clients have, and today I would like to address the truth behind this myth!

First, let’s look at what paralysis actually is. It’s the loss of ability to move certain body parts, because something has disrupted their connection to your brain. Essentially, your brain needs to communicate with all your body parts to control and move them. Somethings interrupts that communication, and now they can no longer be moved. There are four types of paralysis possible. Complete paralysis, where you can not move or control the paralyzed muscle at all, and often can’t feel anything. Partial paralysis, where you still have some feeling in, and sometimes some control over, your paralyzed muscles. Localized paralysis, which effects just a single specific area. And Generalized paralysis, which is widespread. General usually depends on where the brain or spinal cord is injured.

Paralysis is most commonly caused by strokes, usually from a blocked artery. They can also happen with damage to your brain or spinal cord, like from a sports injury or car accident. They can also be caused by genetic conditions and birth defects. Clearly, when doing a body piercing, we aren’t causing enough trauma anywhere to your brain or spine that could cause paralysis. We pierce only surface layers of tissue, and don’t pierce anywhere neat the spine or brain. So, does that mean the rumors of paralysis from a piercing are false? Well, not quite. A piercing is still a wound, and any wound in the skin can open you up to infections. Piercing wounds are particularly unique as they take a longer time to heal. There is a foreign object in the wound holding it open, and preventing any scabs or barriers that protect you from.

Grace Etherington, a British dancer, got Guillaian-Barre syndrome, leaving her temporary paralyzed in the hospital after an ear piercing. She thankfully responded to treatment, and made a full recovery. She is still a proponent of piercing and believes piercing is safe-when done correctly and handled correctly. They weren’t sure if she got the infection from an improperly cleaned piercing gun, or from something after the piercing was done, but either way the piercing opened a pathway for the infection to enter her body. We don’t know much about what exactly causes illness like Gullian Barre, but we know infection is a trigger. And piercings do leave you susceptible to infection.

Layane Dias, a 21 year old from Brazil, became paralyzed after a severe staph infection triggered from a nostril piercing. The Bacteria that causes Staph can live inside the nose, which makes it important that everything is correctly cleaned before and after piercing, and care is maintained during the initial healing process. Her piercing became red and irritated, and she tried to treat it with topical OTC creams and medications. She didn’t seek medical help till pain in her legs became severe enough for her too.

So, can piercings paralyze? Yes, they can open people to the risks of paralysis via infection. But simply the act of piercing doesn’t carry a baseline paralysis risk. When most people hear paralysis from piercing the immediate thought is we “hit a nerve” that causes paralysis. Fortunately, that isn’t going to happen because we aren’t causing any traumatic nerve damage to your spine or brain to cause this. But, we are creating a wound that takes a long time to heal, and does leave you open to infection. For this reason it’s very important to do your research and find a piercer who is safe, and clean, keeping up on sterile practices. It’s also important to follow their advice about healing and care, and not use over the counter or random chemicals on your piercings. And at the first sign of something concerning or off, you should go back to your piercer or see a doctor for further assistance. Part of a piercers job is helping you heal your piercing, so we are always here for questions or concerns about healing and making sure everything is on track. Piercings don’t need to be intimidating, but they should be treated with a level of respect and seriousness as far as care and cleaning, and choosing the correct piercer.

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