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Spinal Cord Injury (Condition)

What is an acute spinal cord injury?

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
Acute spinal cord injury (SCI) is due to a traumatic injury that can either result in a bruise (also called a contusion), a partial tear, or a complete tear (called a transection) in the spinal cord. About 250,000 to 400,000 individuals in the US have a spinal cord injury. About 60 percent of these cases are 30 years old or younger.

The annual incidence of spinal cord injury in the U.S. is 40 cases per million, or 12,000 new cases each year. The number of people in the U.S. in 2008 living with a spinal cord injury is approximately 259,000, with a range of 229,000 and 306,000.

SCI results in a decreased or absence of movement, sensation, and body organ function below the level of the injury. The most common sites of injury are the cervical and thoracic areas. SCI is a common cause of permanent disability and death in children and adults.

What causes an acute spinal cord injury?

There are many causes of SCI. The more common injuries occur when the area of the spine or neck is bent or compressed, as in the following:

  • birth injuries, which usually affect the spinal cord in the neck area
  • falls
  • motor vehicle accidents (where the person is either riding as a passenger in the car or is struck as a pedestrian)
  • sports injuries
  • diving accidents
  • trampoline accidents
  • Penetrating injuries that pierce the cord, such as gunshots and stab wounds may also cause damage.