SCI Overview


Doctor with Spinal Cord X-rays

What is Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)?

An injury that stems from a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that fractures, dislocates, crushes, or compresses one or more vertebrae.  Additional damage can occur over the following days or weeks due to bleeding, swelling, inflammation and fluid accumulation in or around the spinal cord.

A non-traumatic spinal cord injury may be caused by arthritis, cancer, inflammation, infections or disk degeneration of the spine.

How Many People Have SCI?

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center the number of people in the US who are alive in 2020 who have SCI has been estimated to be approximately 294,000 persons. A recent estimate showed that the annual incidence of spinal cord injury (SCI) is about 17,810 new SCI cases each year.  New SCI cases do not include those who die at the scene of the accident.

Spinal Cord Injury Facts and Figures at a Glance – PDF Format

What Causes Spinal Cord Injuries?

Football field injury

In the United States vehicle crashes are currently the leading cause of spinal cord injury followed by falls, acts of violence (primarily gunshot wounds) and sports/recreational activities.

  • Motor vehicle accidents.Auto and motorcycle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries, accounting for almost half of new spinal cord injuries each year.
  • A spinal cord injury after age 65 is most often caused by a fall. Overall, falls cause about 31% of spinal cord injuries.
  • Acts of violence.Over 13% of spinal cord injuries result from violent encounters, most commonly involving gunshot wounds. Knife wounds also are common.
  • Sports and recreation injuries.Athletic activities, such as impact sports and diving in shallow water, cause about 10% of spinal cord injuries.
  • Alcohol use is a factor in about 1 out of every 4 spinal cord injuries.
  • Cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis and inflammation of the spinal cord also can cause spinal cord injuries.

Data Source: Spinal Cord Injury Facts and Figures at a Glance – PDF Format

Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms Causes (Mayo Clinic)

In Hawaiʻi from 2012-2016 the common causes of spinal cord injury to residents and non-residents include:

HTR Data Hawaii

HTR Data Chart – Long Description

Recognizing a Spinal Cord Injury

Emergency signs and symptoms of spinal cord injury after an accident may include:

  • Extreme back pain or pressure in your neck, head or back
  • Weakness, in-coordination or paralysis in any part of your body
  • Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation in your hands, fingers, feet or toes
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Difficulty with balance and walking
  • Impaired breathing after injury
  • An oddly positioned or twisted neck or back

If you suspect that someone has a back or neck injury:

  • DO NOT move the injured person — permanent paralysis and other serious complications may result. Any slight movement may cause further paralysis.
  • Call 911
  • Keep the person still
  • Place heavy towels on both sides of the neck or hold the head and neck to prevent them from moving until emergency care arrives. Any slight movement of their neck may cause further damage or paralysis.
  • Provide basic first aid, such as stopping any bleeding and making the person comfortable, without moving the head or neck