Spinal Cord Injury Facts & Statistics

Understanding Spinal Cord Injury: Spinal Cord Injury Facts You Should Know by Find Injury Law.

Think you know the facts about spinal cord injuries? Here is some information that may surprise you.

Spinal Cord Injuries 2010 -2015

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center at UAB, the distribution of the causes of SCI have changed drastically since 2010.

Researchers have estimated that, as of 2015, 12500 new SCI occur each year and between 240,000 and 337,000 people are currently living with SCI in the United States.

The average age at injury has moved from 29 years in the 1970's to 42 years in 2015.

The length of hospital stays is declining with the average stay in hospital acute care at 11 days - down from 24 in the 1970's - and rehabilitations stays at 36 days - down from 98 days in the 1970's.

Who Do Spinal Cord Injuries Affect in the United States?

What Do Spinal Cord Injuries Really Cost?

Source: The University of Alabama National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center - March 2002

Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Information - NSCIA, 8/95

Although there is more information available about people who have a spinal cord injury than ever before, much of it is incomplete. Some of the statistical data is summarized below per 8/95.

Number of New Injuries Per Year

32 injuries per million population or 7800 injuries in the US each year

Most researchers feel that these numbers represent significant under- reporting. Injuries not recorded include cases where the patient instantaneously or soon after the injury, cases with little or no remaining neurological deficit, and people who have neurologic problems secondary to trauma, but are not classified as SCI. Researchers estimate that an additional 20 cases per million (4860 per year) die before reaching the hospital.

Total Number of People with SCI

People who return to work in the first year post-injury usually return to the same job for the same employer. People who return to work after the first year post-injury either worked for different employers or were students who found work.

How are spinal injuries caused?

Until the most recent figures were released by NSCIA in August, 1995, these were considered as the major causes of spinal cord injuries. See Answer to # 4 and Dr. Wise Youngís statistics in Section 2 for all the most recent demographics. One of the most surprising findings is that acts of violence have now overtaken falls as the second most common source of spinal cord injury, as of the 1995 findings.

Previous To 1995:

  • Motor vehicles 48%
  • Falls 21%
  • Sports 14% (66% of which are caused in diving accidents)
  • Violence 15%
  • Other 2%

The Injury

Since 1988, 45% of all injuries have been complete, 55% incomplete. Complete injuries result in total loss of sensation and function below the injury level. Incomplete injuries result in partial loss. “Complete” does not necessarily mean the cord has been severed. Each of the above categories can occur in paraplegia and quadriplegia.

Except for the incomplete-Preserved motor (functional), no more than 0.9% fully recover, although all can improve from the initial diagnosis.

Overall, slightly more than 1/2 of all injuries result in quadriplegia. However, the proportion of quadriplegics increase markedly after age 45, comprising 2/3 of all injuries after age 60 and 87% of all injuries after age 75.
92% of all sports injuries result in quadriplegia.

Most people with neurologically complete lesions above C-3 die before receiving medical treatment. Those who survive are usually dependent on mechanical respirators to breathe.

50% of all cases have other injuries associated with the spinal cord injury.

Most Frequent Neurological Category

Quadriplegia, incomplete 31.2%
Paraplegia, complete 28.2%
Paraplegia, incomplete 23.1%
Quadriplegia, complete 17.5%


(Important: This section applies only to individuals who were admitted to one of the hospitals designated as “Model” SCI centers by the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research.)

Over 37% of all cases admitted to the Spinal Cord Injury System sponsored by the NIDRR arrive within 24 hours of injury. The mean time between injury and admission is 6 days.

Only 10-15% of all people with injuries are admitted to the NIDRR SCI system. The remainder go to CARF facilities or to general hospitals in their local community.

It is now known that the length of stay and hospital charges for acute care and initial rehabilitation are higher for cases where admission to the SCI system is delayed beyond 24 hours. Average length of stay (1992):

Quadriplegics 95 days
Paraplegics 67 days
All 79 days

Average charges (1990 dollars) Note: Specific cases are considerably higher.

Quadriplegics $118,900
Paraplegics $ 85,100
All $ 99,553

Source of payment acute care:

Private Insurance 53%
Medicaid 25%
Self-pay 1%
Vocational Rehab 14%
Worker's Comp 12%
Medicare 5%
Other 2%

Ongoing medical care: (Many people have more than one source of payment.)

Private Insurance 43%
Medicare 25%
Self-pay 2%
Medicaid 31%
Worker's Compensation 11%
Vocational Rehab 16%

After the Hospital

Residence at discharge

Private Residence 92%
Nursing Home 4%
Other Hospital 2%
Group Home 2%

There is no apparent relationship between severity of injury and nursing home admission, indicating that admission is caused by other factors (i.e. family can't take care of person, medical complications, etc.) Nursing home admission is more common among elderly persons.

Each year 1/3 to 1/2 of all people with SCI are re-admitted to the hospital. There is no difference in the rate of re-admissions between persons with paraplegia and quadriplegia, but there is a difference between the rate for those with complete and incomplete injuries.


Overall, 85% of SCI patients who survive the first 24 hours are still alive 10 years later, compared with 98% of the non-SCI population given similar age and sex.

Causes of Death

The most common cause of death is respiratory ailment, whereas, in the past it was renal failure. An increasing number of people with SCI are dying of unrelated causes such as cancer or cardiovascular disease, similar to that of the general population. Mortality rates are significantly higher during the first year after injury than during subsequent years.