Common spine injuries

Common spine injuries and spine safety awareness

As Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SPIA) prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary on 4 September this year, it seems appropriate to reflect on how important it is to raise awareness of spine safety among young Australians, and to drive home the value of respect, inclusion, and access for those living with a spinal injury.

Spinal cord injury remains a devastating injury that’s much more common in young people and frequently occurs after trauma. It results in loss of feeling, and because it carries signals from the brain to so many important parts of the body, there are many different functions it can affect.

Unlike many other injuries, there is no widely available cure for it, and people who sustain a severe spinal injury are usually permanently disabled because of it. Quadriplegia, or tetraplegia, is the loss of function below the neck, while paraplegia is the loss of function below the chest.

What are the most common spine injuries?

In the public mind, the most common spine injuries are most closely associated with trauma—for example, sporting and recreational falls and injuries and road accidents. The classic example is diving into a shallow pool and causing a hyper flection injury where your chin is driven down towards your chest—resulting in a dislocation in the neck, which causes the spinal cord to be injured.

Temporary loss of function can occur where there has been compression or bruising, and, conversely, people whose necks or backs have technically been broken can avoid permanent spinal injury if the injury is confined to the vertebrae around the spinal cord rather than the spine itself.

Illness rather than trauma

But many spinal cord injuries can occur as a result of conditions that don’t involve trauma—for instance, polio, Friedreich’s Ataxia or spina bifida. Multiple sclerosis can also cause paraplegia or quadriplegia, and spinal cord infections and tumours can disrupt normal spine function.

Spinal injury from illness rather than trauma tends to be an issue for older people. This means that a percentage of people who have these problems end up with spinal cord injuries when they’re older because of the disease they have. And this group can have problems adjusting to spinal injury because they’re not used to not being mobile and it’s harder for them to make a transition to a more disabled situation.

Raising community consciousness

It’s important to instill a sense of spine safety awareness in young people at an early age, and to educate them in the risks of, for example, diving into a body of water of unknown depth, or playing sport without adequate protection, supervision or safety measures in place. It’s certainly important for parents and kids to be aware of this risk.

The other part of spinal cord injury awareness is trying to raise community consciousness of the needs of people with spinal cord injuries. We educate the public to see them as valued members of a community, and we ensure that they have as much participation in normal activities as they possibly can.

This means simple things like allowing wheelchair access for buildings, having appropriate plans, for example, with fire drills, and generating positive action and inclusion for people with disabilities.

Dr Parkinson is a highly qualified neurosurgeon with extensive experience in neurosurgery. He has studied under, and worked with leading neurosurgeons in the USA performing ground breaking surgeries. He is also involved in developing educational tools for both surgeons and patients.