Land transport crashes were the major contributor to traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) cases according to the latest report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. There were 236 new incident cases of SCI due to external causes in 2013/14 reported to the Australian Spinal Cord Injury Register and of these, 231 resulted in persisting traumatic SCI. Land crashes were responsible for 46 per cent of injuries with nearly half associated with a sport or leisure activity, while close to one-third were due to either a high or low fall. Males accounted for 81 per cent of traumatic spinal cord injury cases.
The age-standardised rate of persisting traumatic SCI for Australian residents discharged alive, including those injured while overseas and later treated in an Australian spinal unit (SU), was estimated to be 11.8 cases per million population aged 15 and older. The age-specific rate was highest for ages 15–24, 16.7 cases per million population followed by 14.7 cases per million population for ages 65–74.
Incidence rates of persisting traumatic SCI for male residents were higher across all age groups than those for female residents, with the exception of the age group 75 or older. The median length of stay in a participating SU for Australian residents discharged alive with persisting traumatic SCI was 147 days.
Motorcycle drivers accounted for almost one-third of land transport-related SCI cases with motor vehicle drivers the next most numerous type of user injured, followed by motor vehicle passengers at 23 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively. Cases involving quad-bikes, or a similar type of land transport vehicle, accounted for 3 per cent of all traumatic SCI.
A low fall contributed to 17 per cent of traumatic SCI cases while high falls accounted for 15 per cent. Other reported mechanisms of injury for traumatic SCI included water-related events such as diving into shallow water 10 per cent, football including rugby codes 3 per cent, horse-related 2 per cent and heavy falling objects 2 per cent. The remaining 6 per cent of cases were due to violent assaults or while operating heavy machinery.
Of traumatic SCI cases, 45% occurred while the person was engaged in sports or leisure activity. Injuries sustained while working for income, including travel to and from work, accounted for 8 per cent of traumatic SCI cases.
Spinal cord injury from traumatic causes imposes a heavy physical, psychological and economic burden on those injured, their families and society, because it often results in a high level of long-term disability and morbidity and an increased mortality risk.