Spinal cord injury refers to damage to the spinal cord, usually in the context that it causes changes or limitations to mobility, strength, sensation, autonomic nervous system function, or other impacts to the spinal cord or other body parts.

What is the spinal cord?

The spinal cord is the largest nerve in the body and is found in the spinal column. The spine is made of four or five main sections, depending on whether the sacrum and coccyx are considered individually or as a more general pelvic region. There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves that exit the spinal column.

Impacts of spinal cord injury

The spinal cord is responsible for connecting many functions throughout the body. Messages to and from the brain and other body parts travel through the spinal cord. Spinal cord injury, which can be temporary or permanent, can cause significant change or loss of function.

United Spinal Association explains that:

Spinal cord injury can result in paralysis of the muscles used for breathing; paralysis and/or loss of feeling in all or some of the trunk, arms, and legs; weakness; numbness; loss of bowel and bladder control; and numerous secondary conditions including respiratory problems, pressure sores, and sometimes fatal spikes in blood pressure. For those who survive a spinal cord injury, the most important element of their care becomes preventing complications resulting from the injury, and the prevention of complications related to the disability.

Complications, which are different for everyone, often include loss of function in any or a combination of the following, according to United Spinal Association:

  • Upper extremities
  • Lower extremities
  • Skin
  • Circulation
  • Bladder
  • Bowel
  • Respiratory
  • Sexuality

Spinal cord injury statistics

Statistics on injuries, disorders, and disabilities always vary based on the definitions and reporting methods used. That is true for spinal cord injury, as well.

Key spinal cord injury metrics:

  • Between 249,000 and 363,000 people in the United States have a spinal cord injury.
  • Over 17,000 new spinal cord injury cases occur each year in the United States.
  • 39.5% of people with spinal cord injury are considered paraplegic.
  • 59.9% of people with spinal cord injury are considered quadriplegic.
  • Vehicular accidents and falls are the leading causes of spinal cord injury, combining for more than 70% of instances.

(Source: Spinal Cord Information Pages)