The term spinal cord injury refers to damage to the spinal cord resulting from trauma (car crash or accident), or disease or degeneration (like cancer). There is no reliable estimate of global prevalence, but the 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 symptoms of spinal cord injury depend on the severity of the injury and its location. The symptoms may include partial or complete loss of sensory function or motor control of arms, legs, or body. The most severe spinal cord injury affects the systems that regulate bowel or bladder control, breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Most people with spinal cord injury may experience chronic pain.
Spinal cord injury is associated with a risk of developing secondary conditions that can be debilitating and life-threatening — for instance deep vein thrombosis, urinary tract infections, muscle spasms, osteoporosis, pressure ulcers, chronic pain, and respiratory complications.
Acute care, rehabilitation services, and on-going health maintenance are essential for the prevention, and management of these conditions.
Dr Suhasini Singh, a Spine Specialist from Pune, said, “Spinal cord injury may render a person dependent on caregivers. Assistive technology is often required to facilitate mobility, communication, self-care, or domestic activities. Misconceptions, negative attitudes and physical barriers to basic mobility result in the exclusion of many people from full participation in society. Children with spinal cord injury are less likely than their peers to start school, and once enrolled, less likely to advance.”
Preventing spinal cord injury
The leading causes of spinal cord injury are road accidents, falls, and violence (including attempted suicide). A significant proportion of traumatic spinal cord injury is due to work or sports-related injuries.
Effective interventions are available to prevent several of the main causes of spinal cord injury, including improvements in roads, vehicles and people’s behaviour on the roads to avoid road accidents, window guards to prevent falls, and policies to thwart the harmful use of alcohol, and access to firearms to reduce violence.