Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Cord Injury Care

A spinal cord injury (SCI) refers to any injury to the spinal cord that is caused by trauma instead of disease. Depending on where the spinal cord and nerve roots are damaged, the symptoms can vary widely, from pain to paralysis to incontinence. Spinal cord injuries are described at various levels of "incomplete", which can vary from having no effect on the patient to a "complete" injury which means a total loss of function.

Treatment of spinal cord injuries starts with restraining the spine and controlling inflammation to prevent further damage. The actual treatment can vary widely depending on the location and extent of the injury. In many cases, spinal cord injuries require substantial physical therapy and rehabilitation, especially if the patient's injury interferes with activities of daily life.

Spinal cord injuries have many causes, but are typically associated with major trauma from motor vehicle accidents, falls, sports injuries, and violence. Research into treatments for spinal cord injuries includes controlled hypothermia and stem cells, though many treatments have not been studied thoroughly and very little new research has been implemented in standard care.

Spinal Cord Injury & Information

Occurrence

  • Nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. live with a disability related to a spinal cord injury (SCI) (Berkowitz, 1998).
  • Approximately 11,000 Americans sustain an SCI each year (CDC unpublished data).
  • The leading cause of SCI varies by age. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause among persons under age 65. Among persons age 65 and older, falls cause most SCIs (CDC unpublished data).
  • Sports and recreation activities cause an estimated 18% of SCI cases (Berkowitz, 1998).

Consequences

Secondary conditions are a major health issue for people living with SCI. Secondary conditions are negative health outcomes that occur as a direct result of a SCI-related disability. The most common secondary conditions are pressure sores, respiratory complications, urinary tract infections, spasticity, and scoliosis (McKinley, 1999; Meyers, 2000).

Groups at risk

  • Males are more likely than females to sustain an SCI.
  • More than half of the people who sustain SCIs are 15 to 29 years old (CDC unpublished data).