Spinal Cord Injury Statistics

A spinal cord injury (SCI) has a significant impact on a person’s sensory functions, motor functions, or both, making many of the daily tasks we take for granted a challenge. While this type of traumatic injury is somewhat rare, there are still hundreds of thousands of individuals living with spinal cord injuries who have to cope with these challenges every single day, and thousands more who are newly affected and diagnosed each year.  

But exactly how many people are affected by a spinal cord injury, and who is most likely to be affected? By reading the following spinal cord injury statistics, you’ll learn facts about the prevalence, demographics, health care expenses, and life expectancies associated with SCIs that you may not have known before.

How Many People Are Affected by a Spinal Cord Injury?

In the United States, the current spinal cord injury prevalence (persons living with an SCI) is estimated to be between 243,000 and 347,000 persons. How many people are affected by a spinal cord injury per year? About 54 per million, or 12,500 per year.

Spinal cord injury statistics worldwide are more difficult to estimate, but according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it’s believed that there are between 250,000 and 500,000 new spinal cord injuries every year.

Annual global spinal cord injury incidence (new instances of SCI’s) is estimated to be between 40 and 80 cases per million. But currently, there is no truly accurate estimate of global spinal cord injury prevalence or incidence – for a variety of reasons, including limited access to data in developing countries, we don’t yet know how many people are affected by a spinal cord injury worldwide.

Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries

The vast majority (more than 90%) of all SCIs are the result of a physical, preventable accident such as motorcycle crash, fall, or an act of violence.

In the United States, motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of a spinal cord injury, making up 38.4% of all cases. This is followed by falls (30.5%), violence (13.5%), sports-related incidents (8.9%, two-thirds of which are diving related), and lastly, medical/surgical incidents (4.7%). The remaining 4% of cases are caused by disease, cancer, infection, or congenital problems.

In the UK, where spinal cord injury prevalence is lower than it is in the US, the top two causes of a SCI are reversed – falls are the number one cause at 41.7%, followed closely by motor vehicle accidents at 36.8%.

Who Is Most Likely to Be Affected by a Spinal Cord Injury?

An SCI can affect anyone of any age, but several demographic trends have emerged. For example, spinal cord injury statistics tell us that young, white men are most commonly affected, followed by elderly persons over the age of 70.

The latest report from the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) provides the following spinal cord injury facts about the type of people most likely to be affected in the United States:

  • Approximately 80% of new SCI cases are men.
  • Since 1970, the average age of injury has steadily increased from 29 to 42. This is most likely due to the fact that middle-aged Americans are leading more active lifestyles than ever before.
  • Non-Hispanic white Americans are the most commonly affected demographic, making up 63.3% of cases. However, non-Hispanic blacks are disproportionately affected, with a percentage of SCI’s (22%) much higher than country’s non-Hispanic black population (12%).

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries  

The majority (60%) of SCIs are incomplete, meaning that motor and/or sensory function is only partially impaired below the point of injury. On the other hand, only 40% are classified as complete, meaning that the spinal cord has been severed fully and all sensory and motor function has been lost below the point of injury.

One of the more surprising spinal cord injury facts is that less than 1% (0.4%) of SCI survivors make a full recovery – for the vast majority, the damage is lifelong.

Spinal Cord Injury statistics infographic

A look at some statistics associated with Spinal Cord Injuries

Health Care Facts

Health care experiences and costs for an individual with a spinal cord injury vary by country and largely depend on the severity of the injury.

Obtaining accurate spinal cord injury statistics worldwide is difficult because there is no standardised method of obtaining information across regions, and data from developing countries is scarce. However, we do have accurate spinal cord injury statistics regarding health care in the United States:

  • The average length of stay in a hospital following an acute spinal injury is 11 days.
  • The average length of rehabilitative length of stay is 35 days.
  • 30% of persons with an SCI are readmitted to a hospital at least once after their initial release, primarily due to genitourinary diseases.
  • While costs vary, any type of spinal cord injury requires expensive treatment. High tetraplegia sufferers can expect face direct health care expenses as high as $1 million in the first year alone, not counting indirect costs such as lost income.

Life Expectancy Statistics

According to spinal cord injury statistics from WHO, people with a spinal cord injury are 2-5 times more likely to prematurely pass away than individuals without an SCI – these odds worsen considerably in lower-income countries where access to medical care is limited.

The following spinal cord injury facts are about the mortality risks associated with an SCI:  

  • Mortality risk is highest during the first year after injury.
  • In the 1970s, the leading cause of death in persons with a spinal cord injury was renal failure (loss of kidney function). Due to advances in medical care, kidney failure deaths have become far less common. Today, the leading causes of death for persons with SCI’s are pneumonia and septicemia, or sepsis.
  • The average life expectancy (average remaining years of life) for a spinal cord injury survivor who has motor function at any level is relatively high, at just six or seven years below the life expectancy for an individual without an SCI.
  • The average life expectancies for individuals who are paraplegic or tetraplegic as a result of spinal cord injury are significantly low (between 15 and 40 years lower than individuals with no SCI) and have not seen improvement since the 1980s.