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Top Five Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries

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Posted on July 8, 2023

One of the most life-altering accidental injuries is a spinal cord injury. Sadly, around 17,700 people suffer spinal cord injuries in the U.S. each year. Because the brain controls all of the human body systems and relies on the spinal cord to send and receive messages, damage to the spinal cord causes loss of function in regions below the level of the injury, including paralysis. 

Most injuries to the spinal cord result from accidental trauma. Despite the protection of 33 vertebrae forming a column around the spinal cord, a sudden trauma can break or burst the vertebrae, causing shards of bone to impact or sever the delicate nerves of the spinal cord.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, there are five top causes of spinal cord injuries in the U.S.

Motor Vehicle Accidents

The top cause of spinal cord injuries in individuals under the age of 65 is motor vehicle accidents including:

During a motor vehicle accident, the body sustains trauma in multiple ways. Moving at high speed and then coming to a sudden jarring stop can cause significant damage to the trunk and back. Whether it’s a motor vehicle accident or a pedestrian in a collision with a motor vehicle, the spinal cord can sustain damage from whiplash, blunt force trauma, or crushing injuries from impacts with metal or hard surfaces such as roads. Motor vehicle accidents cause about 35% of spinal cord injuries.

Spinal Cord Accidents From Falls

While motor vehicle accidents are the top cause of spinal cord injuries in younger individuals, falls are the top cause of spinal cord injuries in those over age 65. Falls cause 31.5% of all spinal cord injuries in the U.S. Falls causing spinal cord injuries to occur in several ways:

  • Slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accidents on the same level (20%)
  • Falls from stairs, and steps (16%)
  • Falls from buildings (16%)
  • Falls from ladders (9%)

High falls are more commonly associated with work-related injuries with a high degree of resulting dysfunction while same-level falls more often result in partial or incomplete injury to the spine.

Spinal Cord Injuries From Acts of Violence

Nearly 15% of spinal cord injuries in the U.S. result from acts of violence, especially gunshots. Though globally, these injuries most often result from acts of war, domestic gun violence in the United States is now a top cause of spinal cord injuries. Only about 1% of survivors of gunshot wounds to the spine escape their injury without paralysis. Gunshot injury survivors in the U.S. are most commonly young, unemployed individuals of low socioeconomic status.

Sports Injuries and Spinal Cord Damage

Sports and recreational activities are another common cause of spinal cord injuries. The most common activities resulting in spinal cord damage include:

  • Contact sports, including football
  • Diving
  • Snowboarding
  • Skiing
  • Rock climbing
  • Horseback riding
  • Surfing

About 9% of spinal cord injuries result from sports and recreational activities. Nearly 78% of sports and recreational-related spinal cord injuries occur to male victims.

Medical Mistakes and Malpractice Injuries

An estimated 4.3% of spinal cord injuries result from medical mistakes, primarily surgical mistakes. Some injuries result from emergency medical personnel who fail to react appropriately during a medical emergency. Anesthesiologist mistakes may also result in spinal cord injury due to a misplaced needle or a hematoma in the spinal canal during anesthetic procedures. Chiropractic mistakes are another cause of medical mistakes that may cause spinal cord injury.

When spinal cord injuries occur as the result of someone else’s negligence, the party at fault for the injury is liable for damages. A San Diego personal injury attorney can help you if you have been wrongfully injured, contact us today.