Road crashes top cause of spinal injury

Road crashes and other transport-related accidents remain the most frequent cause of spinal cord injury in Australia-and young men aged 15 to 24 are most at risk, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Spinal Cord Injury, Australia, 1999-00, presents national statistics on new cases of spinal cord injury from traumatic causes.

It shows that transport-related injuries accounted for half of the 261 new cases of spinal cord injury (SCI) during 1999-00. Of these, 82 were motor vehicle occupants, and 49 were unprotected road users (predominately motorcyclists).

Vehicle roll-overs were among the most common causes of SCI from motor vehicle crashes (30 cases out of 82). Collisions with a roadside hazard (such as a tree or pole), accounted for 13 cases, 6 occurred when thrown from a vehicle, and the remainder were the result of various other types of road collisions.

Males accounted for 81% of all spinal injury cases, with the highest incidence rates occurring in the 15-24 year age group.

Report author Peter O'Connor, from the AIHW's National Injury Surveillance Unit at Flinders University, said these statistics were vital for research into the prevention and treatment of a problem that's estimated to cost the Australian community $200 million a year.

'The spinal injury register, established with State spinal units, is the only national register of its kind in the world,' Mr O'Connor said.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Falls from high places were responsible for 47 cases of SCI. Low falls (from less than one metre) accounted for 25 cases-44% of these occurred in elderly people aged 75 years or older.
  • 13 cases of spinal cord injury from diving accidents were reported-five occurred in the surf, two in swimming pools, four in rivers or off piers, and two were unspecified.
  • 51% of all spinal cord injury cases resulted in complete traplegia (loss of function in the arms, legs, trunk and pelvic organs).
  • 17% of all spinal cord injury cases resulted from work-related causes.

17 April 2002


Further information: Mr Peter O'Connor, AIHW National Injury Surveillance Unit,
tel. 08 8374 0970
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel 02 6244 1032