This 16th 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 for 2014–15.

There were 264 newly incident cases of traumatic SCI due to external causes reported for 2014–15. Of these cases, 254 resulted in persisting injury, 6 died and 4 had no long-term neurological injury. The neurological level of injury for all cases who died before discharge was C7 or higher (cervical level segments being C1–C8), and the time between injury and death ranged between 6 and 147 days.

The age-standardised rate of persisting traumatic SCI was estimated to be 12.8 cases per million population aged 15 and older. The age-specific rate was highest for ages 55–64 (19.9 cases per million), followed by 19.8 cases per million for ages 65–74.

Incidence rates of persisting traumatic SCI for males were higher across all age groups than those for females.

The median duration of initial care was longest for the most severe type of persisting traumatic SCI on admission—Complete tetraplegia. Complete tetraplegia is a neurological injury to the cervical spine, with no motor or sensory function preserved at the lowest sacral segments S4–S5. Half of these tetraplegia cases spent 219 days (approximately 7 months) or longer in hospital, from the time of injury to being discharged home from a specialist spinal unit.

Causes of spinal cord injury

Just over 2 in 5 (42%) traumatic SCI cases sustained in 2014–15 were due to a Land transport crash involving either a Motor vehicle occupant or an Unprotected land transport user such as a motor cyclist or pedestrian. Males accounted for 86% of traumatic SCI due to a Land transport crash. A further 40% of traumatic SCI were due to Falls.

Motor vehicle drivers (36 cases) and motorcycle drivers (36 cases) each contributed one-third of land transport-related SCI cases for this period. Pedal cyclists (13 cases; 12%) were the next most numerous type of land transport user injured, followed by motor vehicle passengers (12 cases; 11%). Cases involving quad-bikes accounted for 2% of all traumatic SCI sustained during 2014–15.

A Low fall from less than 1 metre, or a fall from an unspecified height, accounted for 20% of traumatic SCI cases in 2014–15. An equivalent proportion was reported as having sustained a High fall (20%). Water-related events, such as diving into shallow water or being dumped by a wave, accounted for 6% of cases during this period. Other reported mechanisms of injury included Football, including rugby codes (3%), Heavy falling objects (2%), and Horse-related events (2%). The remaining 6% of cases were due to Other and unspecified causes.

Just over one-third (35%) of traumatic SCI cases in 2014–15 were sustained while the person was participating in a Sports or leisure activity, and more than three-quarters (77%) were males. A further 10% of cases were injured While working for income, and all these cases were male. Nine truck drivers or operators of heavy machinery accounted for more than one-third (35%) of cases injured While working for income.