May 30, 2017

Understanding the Severity of Spinal Cord Injury

A spinal cord injury occurs after trauma has been sustained to the spinal column.  Depending on the location of the injury, the level of impairment varies from mild to severe.  In total there are more than thirty-one bones in the spinal column which are called vertebrae.   The number of vertebrae damaged during an injury and the specific location of the vertebrae will determine the full diagnoses of the impairment of the injured as well as the prognosis for recovery.

The spinal cord runs down the center of the spine connecting all the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral and coccygeal vertebrae.  From the spinal cord runs an intricate network of nerves which conduct electrical impulses from the brain, allowing for complex movement such as bending, standing and stretching.  All mobility in the human body is communicated through this system of nerves, and impulses are also delivered to extremities such as the legs, arms and feet.   The spinal cord also communicates with vital organs such as the lungs.    It is important to note that damage to the spinal cord can impact neurological and physiological functioning post injury and that frequently the damage is irreparable.

Spinal Cord Statistics – How Often Do They  Occur? 

According to the Center for Disease Control there are approximately 200,000 individuals living with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) in the United States and about 12,000 new cases and injuries reported every year.  Spinal cord injuries appear to frequently involve risk taking activities and alcohol is involved in approximately 25% of reported spinal cord injuries.

The Center for Disease Control statistics pointed the finger to four key situational causes for Spinal Cord Injury (SPI).

  • 16% of injuries were sustained during an act of violence
  • 12% of SCI were caused by sports injuries
  • 22% of Spinal Cord Injuries were caused by falling
  • 46% of injuries occurred when patients were involved in a motor vehicle accident

The Real Cost of Spinal Cord Injury

Frequently Spinal Cord Injuries result from a single act of carelessness.  The split second risk taking behavior such as driving fast or operating a motor vehicle while impaired is entirely avoidable.  Unfortunately the repercussions of the injury can last a lifetime and negatively impact mobility, quality of life and even employability.  The CDC estimates that the average medical cost for care is between $15,000 to $30,000 per year and up to $3 million dollars over the course of a lifetime.

It’s not surprising that the demographics report the highest rate of injury among the group with the greatest level of risk taking.   Caucasian males younger than the age of thirty account for 50-70% of spinal cord injuries in the United States.  African American men under the age of thirty-five represent 25% of new reported spinal cord injuries.

Neurological impairments from traumatic injury to the spinal cord can result in musculoskeletal loss of mobility resulting in paraplegia, digestion and gastrointestinal problems as well as respiratory difficulties.   Psychological complications can also be part of the picture including patient depression and anxiety.

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