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All About Spinal Cord Injuries

September is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness month in the United States, and the issue is an important one to explore here in Canada as well. 86,000 people in Canada have a spinal cord injury, and more than 4,000 new cases happen every year.

Most of what we know about spinal cord injuries has been discovered in the past 20 years, according to the Canadian American Spinal Cord Research Organizations. And these discoveries are continually increasing the chances of people recovering from spinal cord injuries. Scientists now believe that it is not a case of if we will discover a cure, but rather when.

According to the Rick Hansen Institute, a spinal cord injury happens when an injury, most often a car accident, damages the spinal cord and causes complete or partial paralysis. Immediately following a spinal cord injury, the acute care team will work to stabilize the neck and spine to prevent further damage. These injuries are often accompanied by other trauma, such as brain, abdominal and limb injuries.

In rehabilitation, there are a wide variety of healthcare professionals that help patients with spinal cord injuries recover as much as possible, and deal with the mental and emotional effects of a devastating injury. These professionals include physiatrists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and psychologists.

People with spinal cord injuries will require complex care and rehabilitation, usually for the rest of their lives. This exacts a heavy cost over a person’s lifetime, ranging from about $1.5 million for paraplegia to over $3 million for quadriplegia. And even at that, the lifespan of a person with a spinal cord injury is reduced by between 15 and 30 years.

The best case scenario is to prevent these injuries from happening in the first place. The number one way to do that is for people to drive more safely and not drink and drive. Diving accidents, falls and sports injuries also can cause spinal cord injuries, so being careful around water, when playing sports and when working at height is crucial to reduce the number of spinal cord injuries.