Spinal Cord Injury
Most people are probably aware that a spinal cord injury (SCI) involves damage to the spinal cord, which often results in some kind of paralysis to the victim. But though there is a general understanding of these injuries, what’s lesser known is the impact these injuries have on the victim and their loved ones.
So it’s important to begin by answering this question: What are SCIs?
Per the World Health Organization (WHO) website, SCIs are defined as, “damage to the spinal cord resulting from trauma (e.g. a car crash) or from disease or degeneration (e.g. cancer). There is no reliable estimate of global prevalence, but estimated annual global incidence is 40 to 80 cases per million population. Up to 90% of these cases are due to traumatic causes, though the proportion of non-traumatic spinal cord injury appears to be growing.”
The severity of SCIs varies and depends on a number of factors, but many victims of SCIs suffer either partial or complete loss of the use of their arms, legs and torso. In more severe cases, the injury damages the systems that control breathing, heart rate and bladder control.
The WHO also reported that men from the age of 20 to 29 and older than 70 are at a higher risk of SCIs than the rest of the population.
The risk for women is highest when they are 15 to 19 and older than 60, but men have a 2-to-1 higher ratio of SCIs than women.
Sadly, people who suffer from SCIs are “2 to 5 times more likely to die prematurely than people without SCI.”
Common Types of SCIs
There are an estimated 12,500 SCIs in the U.S. each year, according to SpinalCord.com, with most of them falling into two broad categories: incomplete spinal cord injuries and complete spinal cord injuries.
Incomplete SCIs refers to injuries in which the spinal cord is partially severed, leaving the victim with some movement.
Complete SCIs refers to injuries in which the spinal cord is fully severed, leaving the victim with no movement at all, though some patients do regain movement through intensive physical therapy and other forms of treatment.
Due to advancements in how SCIs are treated, 67 percent of new cases are categorized as incomplete SCIs, which offers hope that victims can regain partial movement.
Causes of SCIs
Auto accidents cause 38 percent of all SCIs, followed by falls at 30 percent, violence at 14 percent, sports at 9 percent, medical/surgical reasons at 5 percent, and other causes at 4 percent.
The impact of auto crashes and how they affect the head, shoulders and arms plays a big role in why they remain the leading cause of SCIs.
Per the Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration, “vehicle accidents often place incredible pressure on the spine or cause it to bend or twist in a way that damages nerves, discs and joints.”
The High Cost of Patients With SCIs
When victims suffer SCIs, it not only affects their ability to move and to walk, but it also exerts a toll because of the financial strain of maintaining their health.
SpinalCord.com reported that the highest costs of a SCI are typically in the first year after the incident.
In the most severe cases, patient costs can soar past $1 million dollars, although those expenses decrease with each subsequent year to about $180,000.
Still, it’s worth noting that these costs do not even take into account lifetime loss of wages due to a victim’s inability to work at a previous job.