Spinal cord injuries exact a startling cost on patients, their families and society. The financial cost alone is too much for most people to bear, and governments and insurance companies often bear them in response to litigation.

Common and often preventable injuries

Despite innovations in auto safety and sports equipment, spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are surprisingly common. Roughly 300,000 Americans are now living with SCIs, and every year hospitals see nearly 17,000 more cases.

Over half are suffered by people aged 16 to 30. Practically all SCIs in this age group are preventable, having been caused by sports injuries in men, auto accidents, gunshots, falls and diving accidents, and medical complications in women. For people 65 years and older, falls are the most common cause.

Costly in many ways

The Centers for Disease Control put the cost of SCIs at nearly $10 billion in the United States.

But even considering just one individual’s annual costs, SCIs are very expensive.

They account for less than 12% of cases, but consider a person with quadriplegia starting high up in the body (known as “high tetraplegia”). Their first year’s expenses average $1,100,000 and nearly $200,000 each year thereafter.

For someone sustaining an injury of this kind at 25 years old, their expected lifetime expenses average $4,900,000. If injured at 50 years old, the lifetime cost averages $2,700,000. An injury of this kind often results in a significantly reduced life expectancy.

The lifetime costs can only be appreciated by imagining the lost lifetime wages and benefits, the decrease in life enjoyment, as well as the individual and societal cost of often reduced productivity.

Treatment and second chances

The most important message to keep in mind about treatment may be is immobilization when and where the injury happens. When medical professionals arrive on the scene, they will immobilize the spine and keep it immobilized until surgery or other procedures.

Prognosis differs significantly with the type and location of the injury. Complications are the main concern, with pneumonia, pressure ulcers and deep vein thrombosis being the most common.

A full recovery is rare, but patients who see some improvement after a few days may see additional improvement over time. Supportive care is likely to be needed permanently for many patients. For everyone experiencing a SCI themselves or in their family, community connection and support can make tremendous differences.