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Injury. 2012 Aug;43(8):1296-300. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2012.04.021. Epub 2012 May 28.

The changing epidemiology of spinal trauma: a 13-year review from a Level I trauma centre.

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Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90033-4525, USA.



Spinal injuries secondary to trauma are a major cause of patient morbidity and a source of significant health care expenditure. Increases in traffic safety standards and improved health care resources may have changed the characteristics and incidence of spinal injury. The purpose of this study was to review a single metropolitan Level I trauma centre's experience to assess the changing characteristics and incidence of traumatic spinal injuries and spinal cord injuries (SCI) over a 13-year period.


A retrospective review of patients admitted to a Level I trauma centre between 1996 and 2008 was performed. Patients with spinal fractures and SCI were identified. Demographics, mechanism of injury, level of spinal injury and Injury Severity Score (ISS) were extracted. The outcomes assessed were the incidence rate of SCI and in-hospital mortality.


Over the 13-year period, 5.8% of all trauma patients suffered spinal fractures, with 21.7% of patients with spinal injuries having SCI. Motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) were responsible for the majority of spinal injuries (32.6%). The mortality rate due to spinal injury decreased significantly over the study period despite a constant mean ISS. The incidence rate of SCI also decreased over the years, which was paralleled by a significant reduction in MVA associated SCI (from 23.5% in 1996 to 14.3% in 2001 to 6.7% in 2008). With increasing age there was an increase in spinal injuries; frequency of blunt SCI; and injuries at multiple spinal levels.


This study demonstrated a reduction in mortality attributable to spinal injury. There has been a marked reduction in SCI due to MVAs, which may be related to improvements in motor vehicle safety and traffic regulations. The elderly population was more likely to suffer SCI, especially by blunt injury, and at multiple levels. Underlying reasons may be anatomical, physiological or mechanism related.

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