Study design: A national retrospective descriptive study.
Objective: To study the clinical effects of spinal cord injuries (SCIs) caused by paragliding accidents in Norway.
Setting: Spinal cord units at Haukeland University Hospital, Sunnaas Rehabilitation Hospital and St Olav Hospital in Norway.
Methods: We studied the medical files for nine patients with SCI caused by paragliding accidents to evaluate the circumstances of the accidents, and clinical effects of injury. We obtained the data from hospital patient files at all three spinal units in Norway and crosschecked them through the Norwegian Paragliding Association's voluntary registry for injuries.
Results: All patients were hospitalized from 1997 to 2006, eight men and one woman, with mean age 30.7 years. The causes of the accidents were landing problems combined with unexpected wind whirls, technical problems and limited experience with unexpected events. All patients contracted fractures in the thoracolumbal junction of the spine, most commonly at the L1 level. At clinical follow-up, all patients presented clinically incomplete SCI (American Spinal Injury Association impairment scores B-D). Their main health problems differed widely, ranging from urinary and sexual disturbances to neuropathic pain and loss of motor functioning. Only three patients returned to full-time employment after rehabilitation.
Conclusion: Paragliding accidents cause spinal fractures predominantly in the thoracolumbal junction with subsequent SCIs and increased morbidity. All patients experienced permanent health problems that influenced daily activities and required long-time clinical follow-up and medical intervention. Better education in landing techniques and understanding of aerodynamics may reduce the risk of paragliding accidents.