Unprotected road users most at risk for spinal cord injury

Transport-related injuries and falls continue to be the major causes of spinal cord injury in Australia according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Spinal Cord Injury, Australia 2003-04, presents national statistics on new cases of persisting spinal cord injury from traumatic causes. It shows that transport-related injuries and falls accounted for three-quarters of the 247 new cases of persisting spinal cord injury (SCI) during 2003-04.

Report author Dr Raymond Cripps of the AIHW's National Injury Surveillance Unit at Flinders University says, of the 102 cases involving motor vehicles, 58 were vehicle occupants and 44 were unprotected road users, predominately motorcyclists.

'Although the number of motorcyclist cases was lower than in the previous year (46 in 2002-03 compared to 35 in 2003-04), the proportion of motorcyclists among all transport-related cases in general has tended to increase since the register started, especially for young adults aged 15-34 years,' Dr Cripps said.

The report also found that that 82% of new SCI cases involved males.

Falls led to 83 cases in 2003-04, nearly the same number as in the previous year. About two-thirds of these were falls from a height of one metre or higher and largely involved men aged 15 to 64 years. Falls from 1 metre or less led to spinal cord injury in 26 cases, half of these involving people aged 65 years or older.

While spinal cord injury is uncommon, personal and health system costs per case are high.

The average duration of initial care following persisting spinal cord injury in 2003-04 was 136 days, and 261 days for cases resulting in complete tetraplegia (loss of function in the arms, legs, trunk and pelvic organs).

The Australian Spinal Cord Injury Register, established and operated by the AIHW National Injury Surveillance Unit in collaboration with State spinal units, is the only national register of its kind in the world.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Water-related events accounted for 10% of cases, most often while surfing or after diving into shallow water.
  • Another 6% occurred during sporting activities, six during rugby, and the rest in a range of activities including skiing, horse riding, cycling and paragliding.

20 January 2006

Further information: Dr Raymond Cripps, AIHW, tel. 08 8201 7627

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel 61 2 6244 1032.