Study: more spinal cord injuries, but from different causes

Spinal cord injuries have spiked in recent years, Johns Hopkins University researchers say, but the specific causes of these injuries are shifting. The findings were based on an analysis of emergency room records for approximately 43,000 people treated for spinal cord injuries in the U.S. from 2007 to 2009.

Causes of spinal cord injuries

In the past, spinal cord injuries were most often the result of car accidents. However, while traffic collisions still account for a large share of spinal cord injuries - about 36 percent, according to the Johns Hopkins study - they are no longer the leading cause. Researchers say this shift could be due in part to recent advancements in vehicle safety, such as improved restraint systems, airbags and antilock brakes.

In recent years, the researchers found, falls have surpassed vehicle accidents as the leading cause of serious spinal cord injuries. Falls caused about 42 percent of the injuries involved in the Johns Hopkins study. Among elderly individuals, that proportion was even higher. The researchers suggest that these findings may be explained in part by the overall aging of the U.S. population as well as the increased tendency among Americans to continue living an active lifestyle well into old age.

Types of spinal cord injuries

Because the spinal cord connects the brain to the different parts of the body, an injury to the spinal cord can cause the signals to and from certain body parts to be disrupted or cut off entirely, resulting in paralysis and loss of sensation in those areas.

In this regard, spinal cord injuries are typically classified as either complete or incomplete. This distinction depends on how much motor control and sensation the person has left in the parts of the body below the injury site. A spinal cord injury is referred to as complete if the injured person cannot feel or move anything below the injured part of the spine. On the other hand, a spinal cord injury is referred to as incomplete if the person has some remaining ability to feel and move the parts of the body below the injury site.

Spinal cord injuries can also be classified according to the degree of resulting paralysis. When a person's lower spine is injured, it may result in paralysis of the legs. This condition is known as paraplegia. When the upper spine is injured, all four limbs may be paralyzed. This condition is known as quadriplegia.

Get help paying for a spinal cord injury

Living with a spinal cord injury can be extremely expensive; depending on the age of the individual and the extent of his or her injuries, the estimated lifetime cost of medical care alone can reach into the millions.

When a spinal cord injury is caused by someone else's carelessness or wrongdoing, for instance in a crash with a reckless driver, the injured person is often able to receive financial compensation for the injuries and related expenses by pursuing a personal injury claim through the civil legal system. Talk to a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer to learn about the options that are available if you or someone in your family has suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of someone else's actions.

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