殘奧會在英文中的說法是Paralympics 或the Paralympic Games，對于Paralympic的來歷，目前的解釋說法不一。一種解釋稱，Paralympic 原是為“脊髓病患者”舉行的運動會，而paralympic由希臘語詞綴para-（在……一旁，在……旁邊）和-（O）lympic（奧林匹克）合成而來，它延續了奧林匹克團結友愛、公平競爭的精神，同時又充分表達了奧運會和殘奧會平等共存的關系。還有一種理解認為，Paralympics代表了與Olympics平行、同在（Parallel）。不過，著名的網絡百科全書維基百科的解釋是：The name derives from the Greek "para" （"beside" or "alongside"） and thus refers to a competition held in parallel with the Olympic Games. No relation with paralysis（癱瘓）or paraplegia（截癱）is intended.不過，就殘奧會來歷來說，它還是與癱瘓患者密切相關的。資料記載如下：Sir Ludwig Guttmann organized a sports competition in 1948 which became known as the Stoke Mandeville Games, involving World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries; in 1952 competitors from the Netherlands took part in the competition, giving an international notion to the movement. The first Olympic-style games for athletes with a disability were held in Rome in 1960; officially called the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games, these are considered to be the first Paralympic Games. The first Winter Paralympics were held in ?rnsk?ldsvik, Sweden in 1976.
殘奧會顧名思義就是專門面向殘疾人的奧運會，因此，其英文表達又可以為the Olympic Games for the disabled/handicapped，其通俗易懂性超過了the Paralympic Games，后者顯得更為專業或專門。維基百科對殘奧會有一個十分地道的解釋：The Paralympic Games are a multi-sport event for athletes with physical, mental and sensorial disabilities. This includes mobility disabilities, amputees, visual disabilities and those with cerebral palsy. The Paralympic Games are held every four years, following the Olympic Games, and are governed by the International Paralympic Committee （IPC）. 由此可見，殘奧會針對的主要是肢體和感官殘疾者，智力殘疾者也并非不可以參加。