Crashes Top Spinal Cord Injury Causes

Auto Accidents Rank First for Kids, Especially Those Not Wearing Seatbelts

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 21, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 21, 2007 -- Motor vehicle accidents are the top cause of spinal cord injury in kids, a new study shows.

The researchers urge kids to wear seatbelts to help prevent such injuries.

"Motor vehicle accidents are by far the No. 1 cause of pediatric spinal cord injury within the U.S., accounting for more than 55% of cases," write the researchers.

They add that nearly 70% of the children and teens who suffered spinal cord injury in auto accidents weren't wearing seatbelts when the accident happened.

The findings are based on two large national databases of hospital discharge records from 1997-2000.

Every year during that time, about 1,400 children and teens aged 0-18 years were admitted to U.S. hospitals for the treatment of spinal cord injury. That translates to nearly two children or teens with spinal cord injuries per 100,000.

Leading Causes of Kids' Spinal Cord Injury

The study was conducted by Michael Vitale, MD, PhD, and colleagues at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

The top causes of kids' spinal cord injury, according to Vitale's team, were:

  • Motor vehicle accidents: 56%
  • Falls: 14%
  • Firearm injury: 9%
  • Sports injury: 7%

Drugs and alcohol were involved in 82 cases (30%) of the pediatric spinal cord injuries noted in the study.

Boys at Higher Risk

Boys were more than twice as likely as girls to suffer spinal cord injury, the study also shows.

"This may be associated with the fact that boys participate in more violent contact sports (such as football) than girls during childhood, or that they are more likely to own or drive a car than their female peers," Vitale's team writes.

The study also shows that, for unknown reasons, black children "are at increased risk of spinal cord injury compared with other races," write the researchers.

Vitale's team stresses safety to help prevent spinal cord injury.

"Basic education on motor vehicle safety, the importance of seatbelts, driver awareness, and substance abuse could have significant impact on lowering a teenager's risk of serious injury, spinal cord injury, or death," the researchers write.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Vitale, M. Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics, November/December 2006; vol 26: pp 745-749. News release, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

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