Spinal cord injuries have many causes, but at its most basic, a spinal cord injury is an injury to the spinal cord as a result of trauma leading to some level of loss of function of the spinal cord. This usually translates into a loss of body functions, as the nerves that control the body all pass through the spinal cord. Such loss of function can include anything from loss of feeling in the extremities – anything from temporary numbness in a finger or two all the way to permanent loss of feeling in an arm or a leg – all the way to paralysis, where you lose the ability to move parts of your body. Further, nerves do not heal, particularly in the case of a break in the spinal cord, meaning that spinal cord injuries are considerably more likely than other types of injuries to lead to long-term or permanent disability. These kinds of injuries can be both debilitating and expensive. The legal and health care legal costs related to spinal cord injuries are more than $29 billion each year and rising.
Traffic Accidents are the Main Cause of Spinal Cord Injuries
Traffic accidents, including passenger vehicle and motorcycle accidents, are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries each year in the United States. Traffic accidents account for almost half of all spinal cord injuries in the U.S. annually. This unwelcome distinction falls disproportionately upon motorcycle riders, who are easily the least well-protected users of the nation’s roads and highways. Even with a helmet on, a motorcycle rider is more exposed than anyone in the smallest, lightest passenger vehicle. In a collision with another vehicle, or even a single-vehicle accident, the motorcyclist almost always incurs worse injuries than the occupant of a passenger vehicle. Motorcycle riders have no steel cocoon surrounding them, nor anything to keep them from flying from their vehicles – rather, they are practically certain of being thrown from their bikes in an accident. This leaves motorcycle riders especially vulnerable to spinal cord injuries. In addition to colliding with another vehicle, they all too frequently are thrown from their bike and hit some other object, whether it be a tree, sign, telephone pole, another vehicle, or even “just” the pavement.
How Will a Spinal Cord Injury Affect My Life?
Spinal injuries are categorized based on the area of the spine affected. An injury to any segment of the spine can be a serious injury, but spinal injuries in different segments have distinct and different impacts. Spinal cord injuries are categorized as:
- Cervical injuries, which affect the upper portion of the spine, including the neck.
- Thoracic injuries, impacting the mid-spine area
- Lumbar injuries, affecting the lower section of the spine
Which spinal section is injured largely determines the areas of the body impacted by any accompanying loss of spinal function. The higher on the spine the injury occurs, the more areas of the body could be affected, but damage anywhere on the spinal cord can lead to temporary or permanent impact on body functions at or below the level of the spinal injury. These impacts can range from loss of strength or feeling all the way to total paralysis.
A major spinal cord injury also will lead to significant medical expenses in addition to the impact on a victim’s quality of life. For a severe spinal injury, medical expenses can last a lifetime and be amazingly high. Initial treatment for a typical traffic-accident spinal cord injury includes about two weeks in the hospital followed by another six weeks or so at a rehabilitation facility, generally costing about $140,000. Then the real costs kick in, with the first year of medical care for a spinal injury often costing in the neighborhood of $200,000. If your injuries leave you a paraplegic – paralyzed from the waist down – annual medical costs run about $152,000 after the first year. If your injuries cause quadriplegia – unable to use or feel your arms and legs – after the first year medical care soars to about $417,000. Social costs, quality of life, and impact on your ability to work only drive those costs higher.