Incidence, prevalence and epidemiology of spinal cord injury: what learns a worldwide literature survey?

Spinal Cord. 2006 Sep;44(9):523-9. doi: 10.1038/ Epub 2006 Jan 3.


Study design: Literature survey.

Objectives: To provide an overview of the literature data on incidence, prevalence and epidemiology of spinal cord injury (SCI) worldwide and to study their evolution since 1977.

Setting: University Antwerp.

Methods: The literature from 1995 onwards was searched on Pubmed. To include evolutionary data, we incorporated the results of three older studies.

Results: Two studies gave prevalence of SCI, and 17 incidence of SCI. The published data on prevalence of SCI was insufficient to consider the range of 223-755 per million inhabitants to be representative for a worldwide estimate. Reported incidence of SCI lies between 10.4 and 83 per million inhabitants per year. One-third of patients with SCI are reported to be tetraplegic and 50% of patients with SCI to have a complete lesion. The mean age of patients sustaining their injury at is reported as 33 years old, and the sex distribution (men/women) as 3.8/1.

Conclusion: There is a need for improved registration of SCI, and publication of the findings in many parts of the world. This survey pleads for uniformity in methodology. The data show that the reported incidence and prevalence have not changed substantially over the past 30 years. Data from Northern America and Europe show higher figures for incidence, but prevalence figures have remained the same. Epidemiology of SCI seems to have changed during the last decades with a higher percentage of tetraplegia and of complete lesions. If such evolution is present worldwide, how it could eventually be prevented needs to be studied.

Sponsorship: Not applicable.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Internationality*
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • PubMed*
  • Publications / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / epidemiology*