Study design: Retrospective review.
Objective: To describe the incidence, clinical features, and treatment of traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) treated at a Canadian tertiary care center.
Summary of background data: Understanding the current epidemiology of acute traumatic SCI is essential for public resource allocation and primary prevention. Recent reports suggest that the mean age of patients with SCI may be increasing.
Methods: We retrospectively reviewed hospital records on all patients with traumatic SCI between January 1997 and June 2001 (n = 151). Variables assessed included age, gender, length of hospitalization, type and mechanism of injury, associated spinal fractures, neurologic deficit, and treatment.
Results: Annual age-adjusted incidence rates were 42.4 per million for adults aged 15-64 years, and 51.4 per million for those 65 years and older. Motor vehicle accidents accounted for 35% of SCI. Falls were responsible for 63% of SCI among patients older than 65 years and for 31% of injuries overall. Cervical SCI was most common, particularly in the elderly, and was associated with fracture in only 56% of cases. Thoracic and lumbar SCI were associated with spinal fractures in 100% and 85% of cases, respectively. In-hospital mortality was 8%. Mortality was significantly higher among the elderly. Treatment of thoracic and lumbar fractures associated with SCI was predominantly surgical, whereas cervical fractures were equally likely to be treated with external immobilization alone or with surgery.
Conclusion: A large proportion of injuries was seen among older adults, predominantly as a result of falls. Prevention programs should expand their focus to include home safety and avoidance of falls in the elderly.