The spine’s 33 vertebrae, 23 discs, and supporting soft tissues are capable of handling certain amounts of stress. However, there are times when the spinal cord itself becomes damaged. In fact, approximately 250,000 Americans have some type of spinal cord injury (SCI). Just over half of these individuals are considered paraplegic, and 47 percent are quadriplegic. Depending on the extent of the damage, the resulting injury could be either temporary or permanent. While nearly 40 percent of spinal cord injuries are caused by vehicle-related accidents, there are a handful of other possible causes of SCIs.
Ranking just behind auto accidents, falls account for nearly 30 percent of SCIs. The risk of falling increases with age. In fact, a third of adults age 65 and older fall each year. SCIs are often associated with falling because the lower back usually absorbs most of the impact, especially when the fall occurs from a significant height. If the spine is already weakened from an existing condition, low-impact falls may cause similar damage to the spinal cord. Common fall risks include:
• Unstable ladders • Loose rugs • Weak hip, leg, and lower back muscles • Underlying conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke that may cause issues with vision, muscle strength, and balance
Violence-related acts account for nearly 15 percent of spinal cord injuries. Such acts may include injuries from gunshots, knives, and blunt objects like hammers. The extent of the damage will depend on whether or not the spinal cord is completely or partially severed by the object. Some SCIs occur when a bullet ricochets off of another structure, such as the rib cage, and hits the spine.
Less than 10 percent of SCIs are the result of exercise or activity-related injuries. Most of the time, spine-related issues from overdoing it at the gym or sustaining a hard fall while playing football or similar contact sport are due to muscle strain or temporary inflammation. Occasionally, forceful impacts can injure the spinal cord itself. Possible causes of SCIs related to sports, recreation, and exercise include:
• Accidents from high-activity sports like football, skiing, and soccer • Unintentional movements while exercising that directly impact the spine • Attempting to lift too much while weightlifting • Direct collisions with another player • Not paying attention to form and technique
Nearly a quarter of all SCIs are related to some type of injury that occurs when an individual is under the influence of alcohol. Such injuries may be physically caused by a fall or car accident that might have otherwise been prevented if the person was sober. Alcohol can affect balance and coordination or impair decision-making abilities enough to lead to a serious spine-related injury.
SCIs that result from diseases or infections usually aren’t preventable. Certain conditions can progressively weaken the spine enough to cause severe nerve damage or increase the risk of damaging the spinal cord from daily movements and activities. In some cases, signs of a weakened spine may be detected early enough to take corrective measures to stabilize the spine, such as spinal fusion. Santa Monica patients should be aware of conditions that could contribute to a spinal cord injury, which include:
• Osteoporosis (spinal arthritis) • Certain forms of cancer • Inflammation of the spinal cord
Nearly 8,000 new spinal cord injuries occur each year in the United States. Men are statistically more likely to sustain spine-related injuries than women, although anyone of any age may be affected. However, advances in technology have increased survival rates for people with SCIs to the point where 85 percent of patients who survive the first 24 hours post-injury are still alive a decade later. Also, promising new treatments involving stem cells and epidural stimulation devices have helped some patients experience restored mobility below the injury site.
If you require surgery due to an SCI, make sure you get in touch with a trusted Santa Monica spine surgeon. Dr. Hyun Bae at The Spine Institute can diagnose the source of your pain and determine the best plan of action for helping you find relief. Give our office a call today at 310-828-7757.