Avoiding Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries have a variety of causes and can occur at home, at work, at play, or on the road.  This article illustrates the different causes of spinal cord injuries and what you can do to prevent them.

At Home

Falls are the second leading cause of spinal cord injuries, accounting for almost 25% of cases.  The elderly are especially susceptible to falls.  The type of injury often relates to the type of fall.  Tripping on a stair, for example, can cause the person to overextend the neck and injure spinal ligaments in that area.  Slipping on a wet floor and landing hard, however, might compress bones in the lower back. 

At Work

Work-related spinal cord injuries make up 12% of cases.  These workplace injuries might result from dangerous conditions specific to the job or more common circumstances, such as a slick floor.  There are preventive measures that every employee can take to avoid back injuries at work, whether the work is labor intensive or not.

All workers should take caution when picking up or holding objects.  Bending at the knees, supporting the body with a nearby table or chair, and keeping an appropriate stance are ways to prevent back injuries on the job.  For office workers, proper chairs and frequent stretching can alleviate back pain.

At Play

Recreational activities are a common cause of spinal cord injuries.  Approximately 15% of injuries occur while the injured person is diving, playing contact sports, horseback riding, or engaging in similar activities.  Fortunately, proper precautions can prevent spinal cord injuries in many of these settings.

When playing sports, be sure to warm up first.  Use safety equipment, such as helmets or pads.  Be sure the safety equipment is high quality and always use it when engaging in activities like bike riding or skateboarding.  When doing things that are already risky, such as skiing or hang-gliding, resist the temptation to take unnecessary risks.

If you and your family enjoy swimming and diving, be aware that diving accidents are the leading cause of sports-related spinal cord injuries.   If you are enjoying a natural watering hole, i.e., lake, river, or ocean, be sure to check the depth of the water before diving in or water skiing.  You should also check out the general area for any obstacles in the water. 

Swimming pool accidents that resulted in spinal cord injuries are most likely to occur in private residential pools.  Most swimming pool incidents occur as a result of an ordinary dive into the pool, and often on the person’s first time diving into the pool.  One study indicates that many swimming pool accidents occur at parties and involve alcohol.  Other common factors include lack of warning signs, absence of water depth indicators, and inadequate lighting.

The Spinal Cord Injury Information Network advises pool users to:

  • Be familiar with the pool.
  • Know how deep the water is.
  • Don’t drink when swimming or diving.
  • Avoid swimming or diving in pools that have inadequate lighting.
  • Don’t swim by yourself.
  • Educate yourself with proper diving techniques.

For pool owners, remember to:

  • Keep the pool fenced off and/or covered so that people aren’t able to use it unsupervised.
  • Be sure the depth of the pool is clearly marked.
  • Install adequate artificial lighting.
  • Provide supervision or a lifeguard, especially during social events.
  • Avoid serving alcohol to pool users.

On the Road

Although spinal cord injuries can occur at home, at work, or at play, they are most likely to occur on the road.  Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of spinal cord injuries.  You can prevent spinal cord injuries the same way you can prevent automobile accidents.  For starters, never drink alcohol or do drugs and drive or ride in a car with a driver who is under the influence.  Always wear a seatbelt and be sure that small children are secure in the appropriate device.  Finally, practice defensive driving – be aware of the road.

BOTTOM LINE ADVICE – There is no cure for spinal cord injury, but there is prevention.  At home and at work, clear walkways and stairwells of obstacles and use proper form when lifting or carrying objects.  When playing sports or participating in recreational activities, wear safety equipment and become familiar with your surroundings first.  On the road, always wear your seatbelt and practice defense driving.  Never drink and drive, and avoid alcohol during recreational activities.

Read the next article: Spinal Cord Injuries 

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