Facts and Tips about Spinal Cord Injury

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Listed below are five little-known facts about spinal cord injury (SCI), with a focus on its fascinating history. Included is a statistical snapshot of SCI today that answers questions such as, Who are most affected by a spinal cord injury—men or women?
Woman taking a snapshot with a smartphone#1. The treatment of spinal cord injury has come a long way since about 1700 BC. An Egyptian papyrus roll from the time described two severe SCIs and suggested they were "an ailment not to be treated."

#2. In 1543, Vesalius, a physician and teacher, contributed much to our understanding of the spinal cord. He was the first to describe and illustrate this structure. In fact, Vesalius coined the names for the spinal levels (cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal).

#3. In the 1920s, the use of x-rays helped physicians pinpoint the location of the spinal cord injury, making diagnosis clearer.

#4. Prior to World War II, the mortality rate for serious spinal cord injury was high. Many patients died just days following injury. A wheelchair-bound life was considered a good outcome. Medical advances in emergency medicine and rehabilitation have changed all that and have significantly improved lives.

#5. It is rare for injury to cause severing of the spinal cord. Spinal cord compression or bruising is enough to cause temporary or permanent paralysis.

2016 Statistical Facts
The 2016 stats and figures below from the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) offer a snapshot of the current SCI landscape:

  • Approximately 17,000 new cases SCI occur each year (not including those who die at the scene of an accident).
  • The average age a person suffers an SCI is 42 years. In the 1970s, the average age was 29 years.
  • Men are much more likely to have an SCI than women. Males account for about 80% of new SCI cases.
  • Car accidents are the top cause of SCI. Physical trauma (such as a fall), violent acts, and recreational activities are other common causes of injury.
  • The average initial hospital stay for an SCI is 11 days, and rehabilitation time is 35 days.
  • Re-hospitalizations are common with SCI. About 30% of people who had an SCI return to the hospital at least once after their initial discharge.
  • The most common neurological damage after an SCI is incomplete quadriplegia, which the NSCISC reports 45% of people with SCI experience.
Updated on: 09/09/17
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Back Pain and Pushing a Wheelchair
Edward C. Benzel, MD
This article was reviewed by Edward C. Benzel, MD.
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