National Spinal Cord Injury Association Resource Center

Factsheet #2:
Spinal Cord Injury Statistics

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.

We have very little information about disease-induced spinal cord injury, except brief descriptions of the diseases. The following information relates to traumatic spinal cord injury. It was compiled primarily by researchers at the University of Alabama using data from the regional SCI Centers funded by NIDRR. For more information on spinal cord injury statistics call 205-934-3320, the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, Birmingham, Alabama.

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 dies 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 Spinal Cord Injury

Current estimates are 250,000 - 400,000 individuals living with Spinal Cord Injury or Spinal Dysfunction.

  • 82% male, 18% female
  • Highest per capita rate of injury occurs between ages 16-30
  • Average age at injury - 33.4
  • Median age at injury - 26
  • Mode (most frequent) age at injury 19

Causes of Spinal Cord Injury

  • Motor vehicle accidents (44%)
  • Acts of violence (24%)
  • falls (22%)
  • sports (8%) (2/3 of sports injuries are from diving)
  • other (2%)

Falls overtake motor vehicles as leading cause of injury after age. 45

Acts of violence and sports cause less injuries as age increases.

Acts of violence have overtaken falls as the second most common source of spinal cord injury in the last 4 years.

Marital status at injury:

Single 53%
Married 31%
Divorced 9%
Other 7%

Marital Status 5 years post-injury

  Indiv. with Spinal Cord Injury non-Spinal Cord Injured Indiv.
Remain Single 88% 65%
Sill Married 81% 89%

Employment status among persons between 16 and 59 years of age at injury

Employed 58.8%
Unemployed 41.2% (includes: students, retired, and homemakers)

Employment status among persons 8 years post-injury

Paraplegic 34.4%
Quadraplegic 24.3%

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.


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

  Complete Incomplete
Quadriplegia 17.5% 31.2%
Paraplegia 28.2% 23.1%


(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.)

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.

Average length of stay (1992)

Quadriplegics 95 days
Paraplegics 67 days
All 79 days

Average charges (1990 dollars)

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

Insurance Coverage

  Acute Coverage On-going Coverage (Many have more than one source.)
Private Insurance 53% 43%
Medicaid 25% 31%
Self-pay 1% 2%
Vocational Rehab 14% 16%
Worker's Comp 12% 11%
Medicare 5% 25%
Other 2%  


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.

We here at NSCIA are continually finding out about people who have lived 30, 40, and even 50 years after their injuries.

NSCIA, 5/96
The Factsheet is provided as an information service to you and is not intended to be comprehensive. The data used in this Factsheet was compiled by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center at the University of Birmingham. Any information you may have to offer to further update this Factsheet would be greatly appreciated. The National Spinal Cord Injury Association Resource Center (NSCIRC) provides information and referral on any subject related to spinal cord injury. Contact the resource center at 1-800-962-9629.


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