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Spinal Cord Injury Statistics

Although there is more information available about people who have a spinal cord injury than ever before, much of it is incomplete. Some of the spinal cord injury statistical data is summarized below.

We have very little information about disease-induced spinal cord injury, except brief descriptions of the diseases. The following information relates to traumatic spinal cord injury. It was compiled primarily by researchers at the University of Alabama using data from the regional spinal cord injury centers funded by National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) . For more information on spinal cord injury statistics call 205.934.3320, the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC), Birmingham, Alabama.

Number of New Spinal Cord Injuries Per Year

40 injuries per million population or 12,000 injuries in the United States each year.

Most researchers feel that these numbers represent significant under-reporting. Injuries not recorded include cases where the patient dies instantaneously or soon after the injury, cases with little, or no remaining neurological deficit, and people who have neurologic problems secondary to trauma, but are not classified as spinal cord injury. Researchers estimate that an additional 20 cases per million (4,860 per year) die before reaching the hospital.

Total Number of People with Spinal Cord Injury

Current estimates are 250,000 - 400,000 individuals living with spinal cord injury or spinal dysfunction.

  • 80.8% male, 19.2% female
  • Highest per capita rate of injury occurs between ages 16-30
  • Average age at injury - 40.2
  • Median age at injury - 34

Racial/Ethnic Distribution of Injuries

  • 66.2% Caucasian
  • 27% African American
  • 2% Asian

Causes of Spinal Cord Injury

  • Motor vehicle accidents (41.3%)
  • Acts of violence (15%)
  • Falls (27.3%)
  • Sports (7.9%) (2/3 of sports injuries are from diving)
  • Other (8.5%)

Falls overtake motor vehicles as leading cause of injury after age 45.

Acts of violence and sports cause less injuries as age increases.

Spinal cord injury due to sports has decreased over time while the proportion of injuries due to falls has increased.

Marital Status at Time of Spinal Cord Injury

  • Single 53%
  • Married 31%
  • Divorced 9%
  • Other 7%

Occupational Status

Among Persons 1 Year Post-Spinal cord injury
11.6% Employed

Among Persons 20 Years Post-Spinal cord injury
35.4% Employed

The Spinal Cord Injury

Since 2005, the most frequent neurologic category at discharge of persons reported to the database is incomplete tetraplegia, followed by complete parplegia, incomplete paraplegia, and complete tetraplegia. Complete injuries result in total loss of sensation and function below the injury level. Incomplete injuries result in partial loss. Over the last 15 years, the percentage of persons with incomplete tetraplegia has increased while complete paraplegia and complete tetraplegia have decreased slightly.

Most Frequent Neurological Category of Spinal Cord Injury Patients

  • Tetraplegia – 16.9% complete; 38.3% incomplete
  • Paraplegia – 22.9% complete; 21.5% incomplete

Hospitalization of Spinal Cord Injury Patients

(Important: This section applies only to individuals who were admitted to one of the hospitals designated as "Model" spinal cord injury centers by the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research.)

Overall, median days hospitalized in the acute care unit for those who enter a Model System immediately following injury has declined from 24 days between 1973 and 1979 to 12 days since 2005. Similar downward trends are noted for days in the rehab unit (from 98 to 38 days). Overall, median days hospitalized (during acute care and rehab) were greater for persons with neurologically complete injuries.  

After the Hospital

Residence at discharge

  • Private Residence – 87.7%
  • Nursing Home – 5.9%
  • Other Hospital, Group Home – 6.4%

There is no apparent relationship between severity of injury and nursing home admission, indicating that admission is caused by other factors (i.e. family can't take care of person, medical complications, etc.) Nursing home admission is more common among elderly persons.

Each year 1/3 to 1/2 of all people with spinal cord injury are re-admitted to the hospital. There is no difference in the rate of re-admissions between persons with paraplegia and quadriplegia, but there is a difference between the rate for those with complete and incomplete injuries.

Survival of Spinal Cord Injury Patients

Overall, 85% of spinal cord injury patients who survive the first 24 hours are still alive 10 years later, compared with 98% of the non-spinal cord injury population given similar age and sex.

Causes of Death Among Spinal Cord Injury Patients

The most common cause of death is pneumonia, septicemia and pumonary emboli, whereas, in the past, it was renal failure. An increasing number of people with spinal cord injury are dying of unrelated causes, such as cancer or cardiovascular disease, similar to that of the general population. Mortality rates are significantly higher during the first year after injury than during subsequent years.

The National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA) is continually finding out about people who have lived 30, 40, and even 50 years after their injuries.

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