Spinal Cord Injury (SCI): Fact Sheet

Armen Hareyan's picture

The leading cause of spinal cord injury varies by age. Males are more likely than females to sustain an spinal cord injury.

Nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. live with a disability related to a spinal cord injury (SCI) (Berkowitz 1998). Approximately 11,000 Americans sustain an SCI each year (CDC unpublished data). The leading cause of spinal cord injury varies by age. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause among persons under age 65. Among persons age 65 and older, falls cause most SCIs (CDC unpublished data).

Sports and recreation activities cause an estimated 18% of SCI cases (Berkowitz 1998).


Secondary conditions are a major health issue for people living with spinal cord injury. Secondary conditions are negative health outcomes that occur as a direct result of a SCI-related disability. The most common secondary conditions are pressure sores, respiratory complications, urinary tract infections, spasticity, and scoliosis (Meyers 2000; McKinley 1999).



  • SCIs cost the nation an estimated $9.7 billion each year (Berkowitz 1998).
  • The annual cost of treating pressure sores alone is estimated at $1.2 billion (Byrne and Salzberg 1996).
  • Groups at Risk

* Males are more likely than females to sustain an spinal cord injury.
* African Americans are at higher risk than whites for SCI.
* More than half of the people who sustain SCIs are 15 to 29 years old (CDC unpublished data).
* Groups at Risk For Secondary Conditions

Some studies suggest that smoking, poor nutrition, and lack of transportation are risk factors for secondary conditions associated with spinal cord injury (Meyers 2000). However, more research is needed in this area.

Prevention Strategies

This section was developed for public health professionals and practitioners in spinal cord injury (SCI) prevention and treatment. Public health strategies to prevent SCI include (adapted from CDC, Report and Recommendations to the Advisory Committee for Injury Prevention and Control on the Interagency Meeting on Spinal Cord Injury, unpublished to date):

  • Implementing programs that reduce or eliminate behavioral and environmental risk factors, and provide behavioral and environmental protective factors;
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of current community-based intervention programs and sharing lessons learned;
  • Engaging the general public, policy makers, and healthcare practitioners in prevention programs;
  • Continuing to support collaborative prevention efforts in areas such as transportation, falls, and firearms.


The source of this factsheet is CDC.gov