This report presents national statistics on spinal cord injury (SCI) using data from case registrations to the Australian Spinal Cord Injury Registry (ASCIR) for 2007–08. Overall, the rates and causes of SCI, and characteristics of people affected by SCI, remained broadly similar to previous years.

A total of 362 new cases of SCI were reported in 2007–08—285 cases were due to trauma while 77 were due to other causes. The age-adjusted rate of persisting SCI from traumatic causes was similar to previous years at an estimated 15.0 new cases per million population (aged 15 years and older).

Incidence rates of SCI were higher for males than females at all ages. The average age at injury was 45 years, although patients who acquired an SCI traumatically were substantially younger on average than those who acquired their SCI non-traumatically (42 years vs 56 years).

Spinal cord injuries were most frequent in the 15–24 year age group. Increases in SCI numbers were seen in the 15–24 and the 65–74 year age group compared with the previous year. However, in the 25–34 year age category there was a decrease.

Patients with SCI tend to have lengthy hospitalisations. Overall, SCI patients had a median length of stay in hospital of 133 days.

Transport-related injuries (46%) and falls (28%) accounted for nearly three-quarters of the 285 cases of traumatic SCI during 2007–08. A substantial number of the transport-related cases (78%) were traffic crashes, with the remainder occurring in non-traffic situations such as off-road bike trails, beaches and farms.

Fifty-one per cent of transport incidents were motor vehicle occupants and 49% were unprotected road users, predominantly motorcyclists (79%). The vast majority of unprotected road users were male (92%), and they tended to be younger with over half (56%) in the 15–34 years age group. Motorcyclists formed the youngest group with an average age of 32 years.

Falls led to 81 cases of persisting SCI in 2007–08, slightly higher than the 78 cases in 2006–07. Sixty-four per cent (52 cases) of the injurious falls were from a height of 1 metre or more. This was notably higher than the 38 cases in 2006–07.

Falls on the same level or from less than 1 metre led to spinal cord injury in 29 cases, which were 11 cases fewer than in 2006–07. Forty-one per cent of low falls involved people aged 65 years or over, compared to only 13% of falls greater than 1 metre involving this age group.

The activity being undertaken at the time of SCI was documented in half of all SCI cases. Leisure activities accounted for 35% of these, with just over half being attributed to diving, surfing, swimming or jumping into bodies of water. SCIs occurred across a range of sporting activities, including motorised sports (trail bike and motocross racing) (45% of sporting activity causes), the major football codes (25%), pedal cycle races (9%) and horse-related activities (9%).

Working for income was documented in 39 cases of SCI, with 44% related to transport incidents, 23% as a result of falls over 1 metre and 23% reported as being struck or colliding with a person or object.