By Matt Lalande in Spinal Cord Injuries on July 29, 2022
A spinal cord injury caused by trauma to the spinal cord most often results in paralysis (loss of strength), loss of sensation (feeling), and loss of control of bodily functions. Traumatic spinal cord injuries have a brutally devastating impact on the victims, as well as their families and loved ones.
Many traumatic spinal cord injuries result in permanent paraplegia, which can turn an individual’s life upside down within moments. Paraplegic spinal cord victims will live with the repercussions of someone else’s mistakes for the rest of their lives, amounting to millions of dollars in care and medical costs, intense psychological and emotional experiences, decreased quality of life, and chronic pain, among many other issues.
As Hamilton spinal cord injury lawyers, we have seen first-hand how devastating these impacts can really be. We have worked with spinal cord injury victims across Ontario, providing essential support throughout every step of the recovery process, from ensuring the appropriate occupational therapy team is in place upon discharge, ensuring adequate insurance funding to assist with the expenses of health, medication and assistive devices.
In terms of what causes a spinal cord injury – the answers of course vary. Over the past 25 years many journals and articles have reported various main causes of spinal cord injury and
A traumatic spinal cord injury is a highly disabling injury that is caused by a sudden trauma or forceful impact that either fractures or dislocates the spinal cord. When this occurs, the displaced bone, bone fragments, disc materials, and/or ligaments compress, bruise or tear into the spinal cord tissue – causing functional neurological disruption. Approximately 90% of all cases of spinal cord injury are traumatic. In contrast, a non-traumatic spinal cord injury may occur due to natural circumstances such as arthritis, disk degeneration, multiple sclerosis, or another illness.
A large portion of traumatic spinal cord injuries are complete spinal cord injuries – in other words, where the individual has suffered from complete motor function or sensory loss below the level of injury. In this case, the individual will likely be permanently paralyzed. Tetraplegia is an example of a complete spinal cord injury which occurs when there is damage high up on the spinal cord. Tetraplegia (previously known as quadriplegia) is a medical disorder in which the lower extremities, upper extremities, and almost the complete trunk/torso become paralyzed. Most people with tetraplegia have significant paralysis below the neck, and many are totally unable to move. This form of paralysis is inevitably the product of damage high in the spinal cord, normally in the cervical spine between C1-C7. The higher the injury is, the more extensive the injury to the spine will be, and very high spinal cord injuries are often instantly fatal.
Approximately 86,000 people in Canada are currently living with some form of spinal cord injury, and according to the data, 43,974 of these injuries are traumatic spinal cord injuries. The lifetime cost of a spinal cord injury can reach millions of dollars.
There are numerous studies and journals which delineate the major causes of spinal cord injury. In one well known peer reviewed journals. For example the journal entitled Topics in spinal cord injury rehabilitation is a quarterly journal which reports on various spinal cord injury issues from cure advances to exercise. In one of their 2015 issues, the Causes of Spinal Cord Injury, it was noted that the most common causes of SCI were automobile crashes (31.5%) and falls (25.3%), followed by gunshot wounds (10.4%), motorcycle crashes (6.8%), diving incidents (4.7%), and medical/surgical complications (4.3%), which collectively accounted for 83.1% of total SCIs since 2005.
In 2019, it was reported in the journal Frontiers in Neurology that etiologically, more than 90% of SCI cases are traumatic and caused by incidences such as traffic accidents, violence, sports or falls. Another recent 2014 article published in the Public Library of Science reported that the specific causes of spinal cord injury were classified as non-traumatic causes or traumatic causes, which included traffic accidents, being struck by falling objects, high falls (height>1 m), low falls (height≤1 m), crushing injuries, violence, and sports-related injuries.
Separate from peer reviewed medical studies in medical literature, what do we personally see as the top causes of spinal cord injuries in our practice?
1. Car Accidents
Car accidents are by far the most common cause of spinal cord injuries that we have seen in our practice. Most spinal cord injuries seem to have been caused by rollover type accidents involving a roof crush injury. As lawyers we are not able to scientifically determine why car accidents cause spinal cord injuries, but we can say that it seems the chances of sustaining a serious spinal cord injury in a car accident is quite high, compared to other types of accidents. This could possibly be attributed to lower manufacturing standards or the inadequacy of proper protection or safety measures.
Certain types of motor vehicle accidents have higher risk factors for causing a spinal cord injury. Head-on collisions are a significant cause of spinal cord injury due to the high speed at which both cars are traveling, and the direct front impact this can cause. T-bone collisions are another major cause of spinal cord injury, especially for passengers as the side door does not provide a substantial amount of protection for the individual.
2. Pedestrian Accidents
Another leading cause of traumatic spinal cord injury that we often see are pedestrian accidents. Pedestrian accidents can have catastrophic, if not fatal, consequences for the victims. This is a bigger risk factor for children and elderly adults, but it could happen to anyone, especially if drunk driving or distracted driving are involved.
An individual on the street or sidewalk with no safety protection is completely vulnerable against a heavy motor vehicle. As a result, it’s almost impossible for a pedestrian to withstand the impact from a car. Brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and broken bones are all common, yet severe, consequences that often occur during pedestrian accidents.
In a 2008 study reported in the Journal of Spinal Disorders and Techniques, Dr. Michael Vives reported that at the time, of the 1672 pedestrian accident patients admitted to a Level I Trauma and Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center over the prior 6 years, 99% suffered serious injuries. 135 patients suffered serious spinal cord injuries, while 35% were reported to have suffered cervical injuries, while another 19% suffered serious back injuries. While in general, spinal cord injuries are relatively rare in Canada, they are not in low to middle income countries. For example in India, pedestrian road traffic accidents are predominantly the main cause of spinal cord injury in that country.
3. Bicycle Accidents
In our practice, the third man cause of spinal cord injury that we see are bicycle accidents. Cycling trauma has become a serious concern of the past several decades as it has seen a large increase in popularity. Participation in cycling as part of competitive sport and endurance events has seen particular growth.
Cyclists who travel long distances often travel at a fast pace, while city cyclists, often share the road with other cars and trucks. Because of this, cyclists are often at risk of serious injury mostly from falls and collisions with other motor vehicle on the road. When high speed accidents occur, or when bicyclists are hit by cars and trucks, vertebral fractures, often in the neck but also in the middle and lower back can occur. Some cyclists unfortunately sustain potentially paralyzing trauma to the spinal cord as well. Recently, the North American Spine Society Journal reported that bicycling was the second most common cause of cervical spinal cord injury, only preceded by falls. A recent American 2021 study reported that in over 12,000 sports-related spinal injuries recorded over 3 years among U.S. adults, researchers found that a full 81% were due to bicycling mishaps.
In our practice, we have seen cycling as a cause of spinal cord injury on more than one occasion. We have seen the devastation cycling accident can have on victims. From serious orthopedic injuries and brain trauma to spinal cord injury – high velocity crashes or bicycle-motor vehicle crashes can cause paralyzing trauma which can lead to brutally impairing disability and life-long suffering.
There are a variety of other causes of traumatic spinal cord injury in Ontario, and while they are less common, they can still have severe and devastating consequences when they occur.
According to the International Spinal Cord Society, unintentional falls are the leading cause of traumatic spinal cord injury in Ontario. The prevalence rate for this type of injury is highest among those over 65 years of age. Slip and falls notoriously impact the bones and spinal cord due to the hard and unexpected nature of the fall, leaving the individual little time to brace for impact, and the risk factor that an individual may also hit their head or neck amid the impact.
Every step you take could lead to a potential slip and fall accident, whether you are at a private residence or a public location. However, certain factors increase those chances and citizens have the duty to ensure that they are not presenting risks for the safety of others. For example, an unsalted sidewalk after a snowstorm can easily lead to a slip and fall that could result in a traumatic spinal cord injury. Likewise, if you are hosting people at your home for a party, it is your duty to remove any potential hazards that could cause someone to fall or you could be held liable for their injuries.
Sports accidents are another leading cause that contributes to many cases of traumatic spinal cord injury each year. Concussions, head injuries, and cervical spine injuries (neck injuries) are common in physical sports, and injuries at the cervical spine can result in the most severe catastrophic consequences.
Diving accidents in swimming pools are less common but often lead to cervical spinal cord injuries, especially in younger populations. When an individual dives into a pool and the water is too shallow, they can easily hit their head on the bottom of the pool. The force at which they dove in combined with the hard concrete of the bottom of the pool often results in severe neck injuries that can cause catastrophic cervical cord damage.
Other accidents that can lead to traumatic spinal cord injury include violent encounters such as a stabbing attack, trampoline accidents, workplace accidents, and bicycle accidents.
Our spinal cord injury lawyers have helped victims of spinal cord injury since 2003. We understand that a traumatic spinal cord injury can not only cause irreversible neuro-trauma and other life threatening injuries – but it can cause a person and their family financially devastation as well. We understand that from day one, a spinal cord injury victim will require accommodation, adaptation and recurring annual costs which can be an extremely large economic burden for the victim and their families. Our spinal cord injury lawyers are experienced in making sure that the right team is in place for discharge, accommodations are made, your health care costs are funded, your assistive devices are installed, your PSW’s are secured, your rehabilitation is paid for and that you receive a wage replacement benefit – all without delay. In addition, we will fully assist with claiming every penny of compensation that you deserve from the driver or motorist that caused your spinal cord injuries. Ultimately, you have one shot to recover the compensation you deserve to finance your recovery – the your recurring health care costs for the rest of your life.
With our spinal cord injury lawyers, all consultations are free, and we can travel to you if you are unable to come to our offices or meet virtually. Call us no matter where you are in Canada at 1-844-LALANDE or local in the Southern Ontario region at 905-333-8888. Alternatively, you can email us confidentially through our website and we will be happy to reach out and schedule a time to speak with you or your loved one.