What causes spinal cord injury (SCI)?

Updated: Nov 01, 2018
  • Author: Lawrence S Chin, MD, FACS, FAANS; Chief Editor: Brian H Kopell, MD  more...
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Since 2005, the most common causes of spinal cord injury (SCI) remain: (1) motor vehicle accidents (40.4%); (2) falls (27.9%), most common in those aged 45 y or older. Older females with osteoporosis have a propensity for vertebral fractures from falls with associated SCI; (3) interpersonal violence (primarily gunshot wounds) (15.0%), which is the most common cause in some US urban settings. Among patients who had suffered an assault, spinal cord injury from a penetrating injury tended to be worse than that from a blunt injury [10] ; (4) and sports (8.0%), in which diving is the most common cause). [11] Spinal cord injury (SCI) due to trauma has major functional, medical, and financial effects on the injured person, as well as an important effect on the individual's psychosocial well-being. [12, 13, 14]

Other causes of spinal cord injury include the following:

  • Vascular disorders

  • Tumors [15]

  • Infectious conditions

  • Spondylosis

  • Iatrogenic injuries, especially after spinal injections and epidural catheter placement

  • Vertebral fractures secondary to osteoporosis

  • Developmental disorders

Injuries often associated with traumatic spinal cord injury also include bone fractures (29.3%), loss of consciousness (17.8%), and traumatic brain injury affecting emotional/cognitive functioning (11.5%).

The rate of alcohol intoxication among individuals who sustain spinal cord injuries is 17–49%.

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