Spinal Cord Injury in Wisconsin

Teenage boy in wheelchair at the libraryWhat is Spinal Cord Injury?

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) a spinal cord injury occurs when there is damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves. Spinal cord injury is a result of a sudden, traumatic experience to the spine that either fractures or dislocates the bones within the spine known as vertebrae.

The spinal cord damage begins at the moment of injury when:

  • Bone and bone fragments become displaced.
  • Disc material, which is the cushion between the bones, becomes damaged or displaced.
  • Ligaments bruise or tear the spinal cord tissue.
  • Nerves are damaged or pinched.
  • The spinal cord itself is damaged, either partially or totally.

The damage can cause either temporary or permanent changes in strength, sensation, and function depending on where the injury is located.

A video series, Understanding Spinal Cord Injury, is available from the Shepherd Center.

The UAB-Spinal Cord Injury Model System Information Network offers a series of fact sheets on selected topics related to spinal cord injury.

Smiling young girl seated in wheelchair

Who Sustains a Spinal Cord Injury?

Individuals of all ages can sustain a spinal cord injury. Some are born with a congenital birth defect, while others may sustain a traumatic spinal injury as the result of an accident. In 2017, it was estimated that approximately 285,000 individuals in the U.S. sustained a spinal cord injury. The national average age at injury has increased from 29 to 42 since the 1970s. Males account for about 81 percent of new cases.

What Causes Spinal Cord Injuries?

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of spinal cord injury, followed by falls, acts of violence (primarily gunshot wounds), and sports or recreation activities. Facts and figures have been analyzed nationally and can be found through the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center.

What is the Cost of Hospitalization and Rehabilitation Care?

People living with spinal cord injury have complex hospitalizations and lengthy rehabilitation care, which may occur in hospital or community settings.

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC), the average yearly expenses (health care costs and living expenses) and the estimated lifetime costs that are directly attributable to spinal cord injury vary greatly based on education, neurological impairment, and pre-injury employment history. These estimates do not include any indirect costs, such as losses in wages, fringe benefits, and productivity.

About 30 percent of people with spinal cord injury are readmitted to a hospital one or more times each year following injury, with an average hospital stay of 22 days. Diseases of the genitourinary system are the leading cause of readmission, followed by disease of the skin. Respiratory, digestive, circulatory, and musculoskeletal diseases are also common causes of hospitalizations.

Resources for People with Spinal Cord Injury

A variety of resources are available to individuals living with spinal cord injury, their families, caregivers, and professionals assisting with recovery. While this is a comprehensive list, it is not all-inclusive.

National Resources

State and Local Resources

For More Information

Please contact Lisa Sobczyk with the Office for Physical Disabilities and Independent Living at 608-266-9354.

Last Revised: June 1, 2020