How many people have spinal cord injuries?

How Many People Have Spinal Cord Injuries?

The risk of spinal cord injury is something we all live with and is more common than many think. Damage to the bones can cartilage of the spine, and the nerves they protect, can lead to life-changing and permanent paralysis as well as a host of other health problems.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

Any injury that causes damage to the spinal cord may also make permanent or more temporary changes to the way it functions. This could include loss of sensation or numbness, the inability to move certain parts of the body and impairment of the autonomic functions of the body such as breathing, heart function and even digestion.

The higher up or closer to the brain spinal cord damage occurs, the more parts of the body will be affected. That damage can lead to partial paralysis or loss of function or, in more serious cases, complete paralysis from the point of injury  downwards.

Spinal Cord Injury facts and figures

A fair amount of research has been carried out on spinal cord injuries in the last few years, both in the US, UK as well as around the world. This shows the impact of this kind of injury not only on the individual but on their immediate family and society as a whole.

First of all, the risk of spinal cord injury is higher than we think:

  • 2,500 people in the UK sustain this type of injury each year and there are 50,000 people currently living with a spinal cord injury.
  • In the USA, there are around 12,500 new cases each year and more than 330,000 are coping full or partial paralysis.
  • According to the World Health Organization, as many as half a million people are recorded with having a spinal injury each year around the globe.
  • A large amount of the research that has been carried out is from the US and this gives us a strong idea of what the impact is on the individual and society as a whole.
  • One statistic that might surprise people is that the vast majority of spinal injury patients in the US are male (82%). Worldwide statistics, however, also put this ratio at two to one.
  • In the US, one of the main causes of spinal cord injuries is road traffic accidents, with around one third of recorded cases being attributed to this type of accident. Falls (21%) and sporting accidents (14%) are next in the list.
  • The severity of injuries is split fairly evenly between complete loss of sensation and function (45%) and incomplete (55%) loss below the level of damage.
  • In the US, the time lag in people getting treatment is an important statistic – there’s an average time between accident and admission to hospital of about 6 days. Of course, during this time, that spinal injury can potentially get worse, making outcomes less easy to determine.
  • Better treatment in the US has led to people spending much less time in hospital recovering in recent years. With improved technology and superior outpatient services, the average time spent in care has come down from 98 days to 36.

Health, Economic and Social Factors

Spinal cord injury economic factors

As you might expect, there is a considerable impact on all areas of life when someone suffers from a serious spinal cord injury. There can certainly be secondary health risks that could well become life-threatening. Immobility may lead to the development of conditions such as deep vein thrombosis. The individual may also encounter problems with their breathing as well as an increased likelihood of ulcers or infections of the urinary tract.

A severe spinal cord injury means that the individual is generally dependent on carers or family members to help them. This may lead to both financial hardship and mental health issues such as depression. The individual may not be able to earn a living as they once did, despite the recent advances in assistive technology and the willingness of companies to accommodate those with disabilities.

Those suffering from spinal cord injuries could face not just physical barriers that stop them going about their daily lives but negative perceptions or discrimination from those around them.

The costs of delivering treatment and care for spinal injuries can be huge, particularly in the early stages of medical intervention as well as later on when support continues to be needed. First year costs for treatment in the US average at nearly $200,000 but the lifetime cost can reach as high as $1.35 million.

There’s no doubt that the prevalence of spinal cord injuries is wider than many of us think. The impact on not just the individual but those supporting them is huge, particularly as they face the challenge of living their lives as fully as possible.