This 19th 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 2017–18.

A total of 187 newly incident cases of traumatic SCI due to external causes were reported for 2017–18 among people aged 15 or over. Of these cases, 176 resulted in a persisting traumatic SCI; 2 died; 8 had no long-term neurological injury; and 1 was still to be discharged at the time of data compilation.

In 2017–18, the age-standardised incidence rate of persisting traumatic SCI was estimated to be 8.6 cases per million population aged 15 and over. The age-specific rate was highest for ages 55–64 (11.2 cases per million population), followed by 10.1 cases per million for ages 65–74.

The 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 (see Glossary). Complete tetraplegia is a neurological injury to the cervical spine, with no motor or sensory function preserved at the lowest sacral segments S4–S5. For the 2017–18 year, the median duration of initial care for cases of complete cervical injury dropped by about 22% from the previous year (250 days in 2016–17 to 194 for 2017–18).

Causes of spinal cord injury

In 2017–18, 86 cases (46%) of traumatic SCI were the result of a land transport crash, while 67 cases (36%) were the result of a fall.

Overall, unprotected land transport users, such as motorcyclists or quad bike riders, accounted for nearly 1 in 3 cases (54 cases, 29%) of total traumatic SCI in this reporting period. Those who had a high fall from over 1 metre (40 cases, 21%) accounted for the second most common cause of traumatic SCI.

The leading cause of traumatic SCI for males was a land transport crash as an unprotected land transport user (49 cases; 33%), while for females it was a high fall (12 cases; 32%).

About a quarter of the reported cases of traumatic SCI for 2017–18 occurred while the person was engaged in sports or leisure activities (43 cases, 23%, almost all males), while 20 cases occurred while the person was working for income (11%). In a large number of reported cases, the activity at the time of injury was either not described or not specified (111 cases, 59%).