Leading Causes and Risk Factors of Spinal Cord Injuries
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year between 250,000 and 500,000 people sustain a spinal cord injury (SCI) around the world. For the U.S., that number is 12,500.
“Spinal cord injury” refers to damage to the spinal cord resulting from trauma (i.e. a car crash), degeneration or disease. Symptoms depend on the severity of the injury and its location on the spinal cord, and may include partial or complete loss of sensory function or motor control of arms, legs and/or body. Most people living with an SCI experience chronic pain.
The leading causes of SCIs are also highly preventable, therefore, it is important to understand the risks associated with sustaining an SCI and to take the proper steps to prevent such injuries.
Risks of sustaining an SCI
According to the Mayo Clinic, although most SCIs are the result of an accident and can happen to anyone, certain factors may predispose you to a higher risk of sustaining an SCI:
•Gender: Approximately 79 percent of SCIs occur among males. Females only account for 20 percent of traumatic SCIs in the United States.
•Age: Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of SCIs in the United States for people 65 and younger, while falls are the leading cause of SCIs for people 65 and older. You're most likely to suffer a traumatic SCI if you're between the ages of 16 and 30.
•Engaging in risky behavior: Diving into too-shallow water; playing sports without wearing the proper safety gear or taking proper precautions; or engaging in risky behaviors behind the wheel can lead to a SCI.
•Having a bone or joint disorder: A relatively minor injury can cause an SCI if you have another disorder that affects your bones or joints, such as arthritis or osteoporosis.
Preventing spinal cord injury
As mentioned previously, the leading causes of SCIs are also preventable: traffic incidents, falls, violence (including attempted suicide), and work and sports-related injuries. The following list from the American Spinal Injury Association and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons serve as helpful reminders of the safety precautions we should all follow in our daily lives to avoid sustaining an SCI or related injuries:
Vehicle safety tips
•Always wear a seatbelt.
•Obey the speed limits and rules of the road.
•Avoid distractions while driving, including talking on the cell phone, loud music and eating.
•Never drive or use motorized equipment under the influence of alcohol.
Safety tips for sports and recreational activities
•Wear proper safety gear when playing sports.
•Do not dive in water less than 12 feet deep or in above ground pools. Check the depth and check the water for debris before diving.
•Children under age one should not be carried on a bicycle.
•When biking in the street, obey traffic regulations at all times.
•Supervise younger children playing sports and using sports equipment at all times.
•Discard and replace sporting equipment that is damaged.
General safety and prevention tips
•Keep firearms unloaded in a locked cabinet or safe, and store ammunition in a separate, secured location.
•Remove hazards that could contribute to falls, i.e. secure loose electrical cords and rugs, put away toys and install window guards. Install handrails, if necessary.
**If you or someone you know experiences a head or neck trauma, assume there is a SCI until proven otherwise. A serious SCI isn’t always apparent at the initial injury. Call 911 or your local emergency medical assistance number and make sure the injured person remains as still as possible until help arrives.**