Road use top cause of spinal injury

Accidents involving unprotected road users and other transport-related accidents remain the most frequent cause of spinal cord injury in Australia, and young men aged 25 to 34 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 2002-03 shows that transport-related injuries accounted for almost half of the 245 new cases of spinal cord injury (SCI) from traumatic causes during 2002-03.

Report author Raymond Cripps, from AIHW's National Injury Surveillance Unit at Flinders University, says that of these, 56 were unprotected road users (predominantly motor cyclists) and 53 were motor vehicle occupants.

'Vehicle roll-overs were among the most common causes of SCI from motor vehicle crashes (24 cases out of 53) and about two-thirds of these resulted in tetraplegia (loss of function in the arms, legs, trunk and pelvic organs).

'Collisions with another vehicle or roadside hazards (such as a tree or a pole) accounted for 21 cases and six cases occurred when thrown from a vehicle.'

Dr Cripps said that males accounted for 79% of all spinal injury cases with the highest incidence rates occurring in the 15-24 year age group.

Of the total spinal cord injury cases, 59% resulted in tetraplegia and 17% were a result of work-related accidents.

Spinal injury incidence rates varied marginally between states and territories, says Dr Cripps, but were not significantly different.

'The spinal register, established with state spinal units, is the only national register of its kind in the world. It is vital for research into the prevention and treatment of a problem that's estimated to cost the Australian community more than $200 million a year.'

Other findings in the report showed that falls were a frequent cause of SCI in the elderly, with 47% of low falls occurring in elderly people aged 65 years or older in 2002-03.

There were also 13 reported cases of spinal cord injury resulting from diving into the surf, swimming pools, or rivers, and five cases of SCI resulting from general surfing or water skiing activities.

22 September 2004


Further information: Raymond Cripps, AIHW, tel. 08 8374 0970.
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032.