This 11th 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 2009–10.

A total of 314 new cases of SCI were reported in 2009–10, with 227 cases resulting from trauma and 87 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 12.3 cases per million population aged 15 and older. This rate should be interpreted with caution as this period was likely affected by greater under-reporting than is usual.

Incidence rates of persisting traumatic SCI were higher for males than females at all ages. The overall rate for Australian male residents aged 15 and older was 20.5 per million population, while for Australian female residents aged 15 and older, the rate was 4.4 cases per million population; a male:female ratio of 4.7:1.

As in previous years, new cases of persisting traumatic SCI due to traumatic causes were most frequent among residents aged 15–24. Mean age at injury for male residents was 40 and 46 for female residents.

Patients with SCI tend to have lengthy hospitalisations. Overall, Australian residents who sustained a persisting traumatic SCI in 2009–10 and survived to discharge had a median length of stay of 153 days in a participating spinal unit (SU).

Causes of spinal cord injury

Land transport crashes (47%) and Falls (34%) accounted for the majority of traumatic SCI cases during 2009–10. The majority of Motor vehicle occupants were injured in crashes that occurred on a public street or highway (90%). This type of place was also the most common for Unprotected land transport users but to a lesser extent (60%). Sports and athletic areas including race-tracks (11%) and farms (9%) were the other types of areas where Unprotected land transport users were injured.

In 2009–10, the majority of Land transport crash cases injured were unprotected users such as motorcyclists, pedal cyclists and pedestrians (61%). For cases involving Motor vehicle occupants, 24 passengers were injured compared with 17 drivers.

One in 5 cases of traumatic SCI in 2009–10 was due to a High fall. While most Falls were recorded as being Unintentional (that is, accidents), 8 High falls were recorded as intentional self-harm. Fourteen per cent of SCI cases in 2009–10 were due to Low falls.

Other reported mechanisms of injury for traumatic SCI recorded in 2009–10 include Water-related events such as diving into shallow water (9%), Heavy falling objects (3%), Horse-related events (1%), and rugby and Australian Rules football (1%). Five per cent of cases were due to Other or unspecified causes including being crushed by people and violence-related causes.

More than one-quarter (29%) of traumatic SCI in 2009–10 were sustained While engaged in sports or leisure. Injuries sustained While working for income (including travel to and from work) accounted for 13% of traumatic cases for this reporting period.