Causes of a Spinal Cord Injury

Traumatic type injuries are not the only causes of a spinal cord-related disorder.

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is caused by injury to or compression of the spinal cord and/or arteries that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the spinal cord. The causes are categorized as either traumatic or non-traumatic.
motorcycle lies on the road near a carAuto or motorcycle accidents are the leading cause of SCI, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC).

Traumatic Causes of Spinal Cord Injury
Major traumatic events are the top cause of SCI. In addition to vehicle crashes, other common traumatic SCI causes include:

  • Violent acts, such as a gunshot or stabbing wound
  • Falling
  • Diving into a shallow pool
  • Being thrown off while horseback riding
  • Sport injuries (football, hockey, and gymnastics pose a heightened risk)
  • Bicycle accidents

Non-Traumatic Causes of Spinal Cord Injury
While traumatic events cause most spinal cord injuries, some spinal conditions and diseases can threaten the health of your spinal cord. These cases are known as non-traumatic SCI causes, and they typically cause SCI by putting pressure on your spinal cord.

Non-traumatic SCI causes include:

  • Arachnoiditis
  • Ischemia (blood supply loss)
  • Spina bifida
  • Spinal ataxia (a hereditary disease affecting the neuromuscular system)
  • Spinal cysts and tumors
  • Spinal fracture caused by osteoporosis
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spondylosis, or osteoarthritis
  • Transverse myelitis (a rare disease marked by inflammation of the spinal cord)
  • Vascular malformations (malformations in the blood supply system, such as arteriovenous malformations and spinal dural arteriovenous fistulas)

A common misconception about spinal cord injury is the belief that the spinal cord must be severed to result in a SCI, but severing of the cord rarely happens. Many of the non-traumatic conditions above cause the spinal cord to become compressed—and compression alone can cause SCI. 

Updated on: 09/09/17
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Exams and Tests for Spinal Cord Injury
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Exams and Tests for Spinal Cord Injury

Sometimes the extent of a spinal cord injury is not obvious. That is why it is important to dial 911 first and keep the patient still to avoid further spine or spinal cord damage.
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