This 13th 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 2011–12.

Some 220 new incident cases of traumatic SCI due to external causes were reported for 2011–12. This is the lowest recorded annual figure recorded for ASCIR.

The age-standardised rate for Australian residents aged 15 and older and discharged alive with a persisting traumatic SCI was estimated to be 10.9 new cases per million population. Caution is advised when interpreting this rate due to the lower than usual case numbers reported by one spinal unit (SU).

Incidence rates of persisting traumatic SCI were higher for males than females at all ages. The overall rate for Australian males aged 15 and older was 17.8 cases per million population, while for Australian females aged 15 and older, the rate was 4.3 cases per million population; a male to female ratio of 4.1:1.

Australian residents, aged 15 and older, discharged alive with a persisting traumatic SCI sustained in 2011–12, had a median length of stay of 132 days in a specialised SU.

Causes of spinal cord injury

Falls (45%) and Land transport crashes (38%) were the most common causes of traumatic SCI in 2011–12. This was a reverse pattern to previous reports in this series.

Falls led to 100 cases of traumatic SCI in 2011–12, with High falls being the single leading cause overall (29%). While the majority of Falls were Unintentional, 11% of High falls were recorded as Intentional self-harm. Generally, Falls contributed to a greater proportion of traumatic SCI among female cases than among males; 74% compared with 38%, even though the case numbers for males were higher.

Unprotected land transport users such as motorcyclists and pedal cyclists were the second most frequently injured group overall (23%) in 2011–12, and all of these cases were male. One-third of motorcyclists who sustained a traumatic SCI in this period were aged 15–24, followed by 30% aged 35–44, whereas 42% of the pedal cyclist cases were aged 45–54.

Other reported mechanisms of injury for traumatic SCI in 2011–12 include Water-related events such as diving into shallow water (6%), Heavy falling objects (2%), Horse-related events (1%) and Football (including rugby codes) (1%). Other cases were due to violence-related causes, other modes of transport and other sporting or physical activities.

Approximately 1 in 3 cases (36%) of traumatic SCI sustained during 2011–12 occurred While engaged in sports or leisure. Injuries sustained While working for income including travel to and from work accounted for 11% of traumatic SCI for this period.