Spinal Cord Injury Statistics in the United States

Explore statistics like average medical costs, victim demographics, prevalence, and causes and severity of spinal cord injuries. 

Thousands of people suffer spinal cord injuries each year. These injuries are often devastating, life-altering and costly. For many victims, spinal cord injury (SCI) results in some form of paralysis, and very few people achieve complete neurological recovery after experiencing an SCI.

According to the Mayo Clinic, an SCI victim’s ability to control their limbs after the injury depends on the severity of the injury and its location on the spinal cord. The severity of the injury is often referred to as the injury’s “completeness” and is classified as either complete or incomplete.

With complete spinal cord injuries, all sensory and motor functions are lost below the point of injury. In contrast, people who suffer incomplete SCI have some degree of motor or sensory function below the injury area.

Common symptoms of SCI include:

  • Loss of ability to move
  • Loss of or changes to sensation, including the capacity for feeling heat, cold and touch
  • Loss of control of the bladder or bowels
  • Exaggerated reflexes or muscle spasms
  • Alterations to sexual function, sensitivity and fertility
  • An intense stinging or other types of pain

This article will review statistics about the impact of SCI on its victims, both physically and financially.

Notable Statistics:

  • There are approximately 17,730 new SCI cases each year in the United States.
  • About 78% of new spinal cord injuries occur in males.
  • Over 70% of spinal cord injuries are caused by either car crashes or falls.
  • The average costs associated with SCI in the first year after injury range from $368,562 to $1,129,302, depending on the severity of the injury.

Spinal Cord Injury Incidence and Prevalence

The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is responsible for supporting and directing the largest spinal cord injury research database in the world, which includes information from Spinal Cord Injury Model System Centers throughout the United States.

The NSCISC database includes information about approximately 6% of new SCI cases across the country. As of 2018, the database included demographic and condition status information for 33,406 people suffering from SCI.

An NSCISC fact sheet reports the annual incidence rate of SCI in the U.S. as approximately 54 cases per 1 million people, which averages to 17,730 new cases each year. The approximate number of people with SCI ranges from 249,000 to 363,000 people, and as of 2018, the number of SCI patients was estimated as 291,000 people.Spinal cord injury prevalence

SCI Victim Demographics

NSCISC reports that about 78% of new SCI cases occur in males. In the 1970s, the average age at injury was 29, but it has risen to 43 years old in recent years.

The distribution of SCI since 2015 by race is as follows:

  • Non-Hispanic White: 59.5%
  • Non-Hispanic Black: 22.6%
  • Hispanic Origin: 13.2%
  • Native American: 0.5%
  • Asian: 2.8%
  • Other: 1.4%

The SCI data since 2015 shows that about 24.4% of people who sustained spinal cord injuries had a college degree at the time of their injury, whereas 51.7% only had a high school education. Single people accounted for 44.9% of SCI victims, and 8.6% were divorced at the time of the injury.Spinal cord injury victim demographics

Causes and Severity of Spinal Cord Injuries

In new SCI cases since 2015, the leading causes of spinal cord injury include:

  • Vehicle Crashes: 39.3%
  • Falls: 31.8%
  • Acts of Violence (primarily gunshot wounds): 13.5%
  • Sports and Recreation Activities: 8.0%
  • Medical/Surgical: 4.3%
  • Other: 3.1%

NSCISC statistics also include the severity of SCI cases. Tetraplegia, also known as quadriplegia, occurs when a victim cannot move their arms or legs. Paraplegia is a less severe form of paralysis where the victim retains the use of their arms.

Since 2015, spinal cord injuries have caused incomplete tetraplegia in 47.6% of victims and complete tetraplegia in 12.3% of individuals. Incomplete paraplegia occurred in 19.9% of injury victims, and 19.6% of injuries resulted in complete paraplegia. Less than 1% of SCI victims achieved complete neurological recovery by the time of discharge.

Approximately 30% of SCI victims need additional hospital care at least once in the first year following the injury. The average hospital stay length is 19 days, and the leading causes of re-hospitalization include genitourinary, respiratory, digestive, circulatory and musculoskeletal diseases.Causes of spinal cord injuries

Spinal Cord Injury Costs

The estimated lifetime costs and average annual expenses, including health care costs and living expenses, directly attributable to SCI vary significantly between patients. Factors that contribute to the differences include education, neurological impairment, and employment history.

The chart below details statistical estimates of the average yearly expenses, excluding indirect costs such as lost wages, benefits, and productivity caused by SCI. The indirect costs associated with SCI averaged $76,327 annually.Spinal cord injury costsThe estimated lifetime costs for 25-year-olds and 50-year-olds who suffer spinal cord injuries are detailed in the chart below by severity of the injury.Lifetime cost of spinal cord injuryIn many situations, you may be able to receive compensation from an at-fault party if you suffer a spinal cord injury. The law entitles victims to reimbursement for the monetary costs of SCI and the physical and emotional impact the injury has on their life.

If you are suffering from a spinal cord injury resulting from an accident, you should consult with a personal injury lawyer near you to discuss your options. Most attorneys and law firms offer a free initial consultation to evaluate your case.

Amy Grover is a licensed attorney in the state of Ohio. After graduating magna cum laude from the University of Cincinnati College of Law, then passing the bar exam in 2014, Amy began her diverse career as a practicing attorney. Amy has a range of experience in the legal field, including work with the Department... Read More >>