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Spinal cord injuries (SCI) occur when a traumatic event causes damage to cells within the spinal column/cord or severs the nerve tracts that send signals up/down the spinal cord. Approximately 250,000 Americans are spinal cord injured with almost 11,000 new injuries a year. Of these individuals, 52% are paraplegics (impairment of motor and sensory function to the lower extremities) and 47% are quadriplegic (impairment of both arms and legs). About 82% of the spinal cord population is males and 56% of the injuries occurring between the ages of 16 and 30.

As the summer months approach, pay particular care when participating in sports and recreation activities. Causes of spinal cord injury include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents. Auto and motorcycle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries, accounting for more than 40 percent of new spinal cord injuries each year.
  • Falls. Spinal cord injury after age 65 is most often caused by a fall. Overall, falls cause more than one-quarter of spinal cord injuries.
  • Acts of violence. As many as 15 percent of spinal cord injuries result from violent encounters, often involving gunshot and knife wounds, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
  • Sports and recreation injuries. Athletic activities, such as impact sports and diving in shallow water, cause about 8 percent of spinal cord injuries.
  • Alcohol. Alcohol use is a factor in about 1 out of every 4 spinal cord injuries.
  • Diseases. Cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis and inflammation of the spinal cord also can cause spinal cord injuries.

Following a spinal cord injury, the length of stay in a hospital is about 15 days and an average of 44 days in a rehabilitation facility. The initial cost for the hospital stay alone is $140,000. Following healthcare, 89% of SCI patients are discharged from the hospital to home and 4.3% are discharged to a nursing home. Many times, families look to others dealing with the same challenges for support.

At St. David’s Rehabilitation Hospital, a support group led by Pamela Fletcher and Dona Carlson, provides education, resources and activities for spinal cord injury survivors and their families. The group meets at St. David’s Rehabilitation Hospital on the second Thursday of every month from 3:00 to 5:30. For more information, contact Pam Fletcher at 826-0813.

Barbara Lasiter, MBA
Director of Rehabilitation Operations

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