Causes and Consequences

Causes of Spinal Cord Injury

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of SCI (44%), followed by acts of violence (24%), falls (22%), sports (8%), and other (2%). Motor vehicle accidents consist of auto accidents (34.9%), motorcycle accidents (5.9%), ATV/ATC accidents (0.2%). Boating mishaps, snowmobile, bicycling and accidents involving fixed and rotating wing aircraft account for the remaining 3%.

Since 1990, motor vehicle crashes account for 35% of the SCI cases reported. The next largest contributor is acts of violence (primarily gunshot wounds), followed by falls and recreational sporting activities. Interesting trends in the database show proportions of injuries due to motor vehicle crashes and sporting activities have declined while proportion of injuries from acts of violence has increased over the years.

Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury

Since 1988, 45% of all injuries have been complete, 55% incomplete. Complete injuries result in total loss of sensation and function below the injury level. Incomplete injuries result in partial loss. “Complete” does not necessarily mean the cord has been severed. Each of the above categories can occur in paraplegia and quadriplegia.

Impact on Occupational Status

More than half of those persons with SCI reported being employed at the time of their injury. The post-injury employment picture is better among persons with paraplegia than among their tetraplegic counterparts. About 40% of persons with paraplegia and 30% of persons with tetraplegia (quadriplegia) eventually return to work. By post-injury year eight, approximately 39% of persons with paraplegia are employed, while approximately 26% of those with tetraplegia are employed during the same year.

Residence Changes

Historically, many persons with SCI were forced to live out the remainder of their lives in institutional settings such as nursing homes. Today however, 89% of all persons with SCI who are discharged are sent to a private, noninstitutional residence (in most cases their homes before injury.) Only 4% are discharged to nursing homes. The remaining are discharged to hospitals, group living situations or other destinations.

Marital Status and Strain

Considering the youthful age of most persons with SCI, it is not surprising that most (approximately 54%) are single when injured. Among those who were married at the time of injury, as well as those who marry after injury, the likelihood of their marriage remaining intact is slightly lower when compared to the uninjured population. The likelihood of getting married after injury is also reduced.

Length of Hospital Stay

Overall, average days hospitalized for acute care and rehabilitation immediately following injury has declined from 137 days to 73 days. Similar downward trends are noted for those with paraplegia (from 122 to 69 days) and persons with tetraplegia (from 150 to 80 days).