This 10th report in the Spinal cord injury, Australia series presents national statistics on spinal cord injury (SCI) using data from case registrations to the Australian Spinal Cord Injury Register (ASCIR) for 2008–09. Overall, the rates and causes of SCI, and the characteristics of people affected by SCI, remained broadly similar to previous years.

A total of 349 new cases of SCI were reported in 2008–09, with 263 cases resulting from trauma and 86 from other non-traumatic causes.

The age-standardised rate of persisting SCI from traumatic causes for Australian residents (excluding those who died before discharge) was estimated to be 14.0 new cases per million population aged 15 and older. Incidence rates of persisting SCI were higher for males than females at all ages. The overall rate for Australian male residents aged 15 and older was 22.6 per million population, while for Australian female residents aged 15 and older, the rate was 5.4 cases per million population; a male:female ratio of 4.2:1.

Persisting traumatic spinal cord injuries were most frequent in the 15–24 aged category. Mean age at onset for male residents was 39 and 46 for female residents

Patients with SCI tend to have lengthy hospitalisations. Overall, Australian residents who sustained a persisting SCI in 2008–09 and survived to discharge had a median length of stay of 150 days in a participating spinal unit (SU).

Causes of spinal cord injury

Land transport crashes (45%) and falls (33%) accounted for the majority of the 263 cases of traumatic SCI during 2008–09. The great majority of land transport crashes occurred on a public street or highway (90%), including 7 non-urban roads. The remainder occurred on race-tracks and other public recreation areas, car parks, farms or in bushland.

In 2008–09, the number of Motor vehicle occupants (59 cases) who sustained a traumatic SCI was almost the same as for Unprotected land transport users (60 cases). The majority of SCI cases due to Land transport crashes were male (75%).

Falls led to 87 cases of traumatic SCI in 2008–09. Fewer than 20% were reported for cases aged 15–24, compared with more than 60% for cases aged 65 or older. While the majority of Falls were unintentional accidents, cases of assault and intentional self-harm were also recorded.

Other reported mechanisms of injury for traumatic SCI recorded in 2008–09 include Water-related events such as diving into shallow water (9%), Heavy falling objects (3%), Horse-related events (2%), and rugby and Australian Rules football (2%). Six per cent of cases were due to post-operative complications, other sports, and violence-related causes.

Pedestrian and Horse-related injury events were the only circumstances in which women outnumbered men for new cases of traumatic SCI in 2008–09.

Approximately one-quarter (24%) of traumatic SCI in 2008–09 were sustained while the person was participating in a Sports or leisure activity. Injuries sustained While working for income (including travel to and from work) accounted for 16% of traumatic cases for this reporting period.