Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are devastating and yet injury awareness and prevention information can decrease SCIs significantly. The current projections are that 18,000 people will experience a spinal cord injury this year in the United States.
Nearly 90% of spinal cord injuries are due to traumatic events, with motor vehicle accidents causing 38% of SCI’s according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistic Center (NSCISC). The people at the highest risk for an SCI are between the ages of 15-25 mostly from motor vehicle accidents and sports injuries. Older people have a higher risk of falls which could also result in a spinal cord injury. The severity and location of the spinal cord injury determines the impact to the body functions. For instance, the higher in the spinal cord (cervical area) of the injury results in a greater risk of a life-threatening impact.
What is a Spinal Cord Injury?
The spinal cord provides the communication between the brain and the muscles and organs of the body, much like a telephone between two people. Throughout the body, every second of the day, the spinal cord relays the messages from the brain to various parts of the body to keep it moving and functioning properly. When a spinal cord injury occurs, communication can be stopped, resulting in the loss of function in the affected body part. Additionally, a person with an SCI may experience pain, sensitivity to touch or temperature, and muscle spasms.
Severe spinal cord injuries can affect a person’s abilities in breathing and the control of bowel or bladder functionality. Patients with an SCI are also susceptible to secondary medical complications such as bladder infections and lung infections.
Spinal Cord Prevention
In many situations, a person can’t prevent an injury and all safety measures can’t guarantee against an injury. However, there a number of actions that can increase safety and decrease the incidence of a spinal cord injury.
Wear a seatbelt and have proper child safety restraints
Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs or ride with anyone who is under
the influence of alcohol or drugs
Wear a helmet and use appropriate safety equipment in sports activities and recognize that extreme sports (sky diving, base jumping, etc.) can be very dangerous. Horseback riding is also a dangerous activity even when done by a trained rider.
Avoid distractions while driving especially texting and phone calls
Follow traffic signs while riding a bike and don’t wear headphones
Keep the floor free of hazards that could result in a fall such as throw rugs and items in the paths of high traffic between rooms. This is especially true for the elderly since falls can cause serious injuries. Installing handrails may be helpful.
Playground and pool safety are a must. Supervise children at all times. Ensure the playground equipment is in good condition. A fall from just a few feet can result in a spinal cord injury. Don’t dive in water less than 10-12 feet. Never push anyone into a pool and keep the area around a pool clear of hazards.
If an injury has occurred, don’t move the person as any movement could cause additional spinal cord damage. Let emergency personnel assess the person and the injury.
Coming Next: Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation