See COVID-19 resources and updates.

If your child has an upcoming appointment, please contact your local Shriners Hospitals for Children location.

Skip to navigation

Spinal cord injury awareness

Spinal cord injury awareness


Prevention begins with awareness

Most spinal cord injuries occur due to accidents

By increasing awareness and taking precautions, many of these accidents and the resulting spinal cord injuries can be prevented. For those concerned with quality of life of young people, preventing spinal cord injury must become a primary concern.

Understanding spinal cord injury

The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that runs inside the vertebral column (the backbone). Nerves from this bundle, which are distributed throughout the body, control voluntary actions – such as moving one's arm and leg – and involuntary actions – such as food digestion and breathing. Spinal cord injury results in paralysis of the limbs affected as well as partial or complete disruption of involuntary actions, including bowel, bladder and sexual function.

Spinal cord injury facts

  • There are approximately 12,000 new cases of spinal cord injury annually in the U.S.
  • An additional 4,860 people who sustain a spinal cord injury die before reaching the hospital each year.
  • As many as 300,000 people are living with spinal cord injury in the U.S. alone.
  • At least 30 people sustain a spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis every day in the U.S.
  • The average annual medical costs associated with a spinal cord injury after the first year (when costs are even higher) are $30,000–$148,000, depending on the level of injury.
  • The estimated lifetime costs of spinal cord injury ranges from $500,000 to more than $3 million, depending on the severity of injury.

Pediatric spinal cord injury facts

  • Between 1,500 and 2,000 new spinal cord injuries affect children and adolescents every year.
  • Approximately 50 percent of injuries occur in the cervical region (neck), affecting the ability to breathe, and upper and lower body function.
  • Fifty percent of injuries occur in the thoracic region (back), affecting primarily lower body function.

Risk factors for spinal cord injury

  • Gender: Eighty percent of those sustaining spinal cord injury after the age of 12 are males.
  • Age: The majority of spinal cord injuries happen to people between the ages of 16 and 30.
  • Race: More than 65 percent of those with spinal cord injuries are Caucasian; 27 percent are African-American.
  • Activities: Participation in certain sports—including football, rugby, wrestling, gymnastics and diving—can increase injury risk. More than 60 percent of injuries from sports or recreation are related to diving accidents.

Prevention safety tips

Shriners Hospitals for Children are committed to to raising awareness and helping prevent spinal cord injuries. Here are some safety tips to lessen the likelihood of these incidents:


  • Avoid distractions, including texting, talking on the phone, eating, disruptive passengers or pets.
  • Give driving your full attention.
  • Never drive after drinking alcohol.
  • Wear a seatbelt.
  • Be aware of side-effects of prescription drugs before driving.
  • Properly restrain children under age 12 in the back seat.
  • Place young children in age, height and weight appropriate safety or booster seats.
  • Follow traffic rules, including speed limits.
  • Download our brochure, Safety Tips for Young Drivers.


  • Avoid having throw rugs in the home.
  • Keep carpet in good condition. Replace or repair torn edges.
  • Be sure your home and stairways are well-lit.
  • Keep floors and pathways clear.


  • Teach children that guns are dangerous and never to play with them.
  • Instruct your children to leave places where guns are accessible or visible.
  • Encourage children to discover new ways of resolving differences or arguments without violence or weapons.
  • Keep guns locked, out of site and unloaded.
  • Lock and store bullets in a separate location.


  • Have clearly visible depth indicators around the entire pool. Do not allow anyone to dive into water less than 9 feet deep.
  • Never allow anyone to dive into an above-ground pool.
  • Be sure pool area is adequately lit.
  • Clearly indicate appropriate diving areas.
  • Have someone trained in water safety present at parties.


  • Check playground and playing fields to be sure they are properly maintained and equipment meets safety standards.
  • Be sure there is appropriate adult supervision.


  • Always have trained persons to supervise use.
  • Children should not jump on trampoline from high objects or locations.
  • Always have protective padding on supports and surrounding land surfaces.
  • Allow only one person on trampoline at one time.


  • Always wear appropriate clothes, shoes and safety gear.
  • Learn proper techniques for movements used in different games.
  • Play by the rules.
  • Be sure there is proper supervision.

Download and save all of these tips.

Rehabilitation and management

In the mid-1980s, Shriners Hospitals for Children established the first spinal cord injury (SCI) rehabilitation programs specifically designed for children and teenagers. Today the hospital system is recognized worldwide as a leader in pediatric SCI rehabilitation and management.

Innovative therapies available at Shriners Hospitals for Children (for children and teens with SCI), include body weight support manual treadmill training, or, at our Chicago hospital, robotic treadmill training with the Lokomat, a device that automates movement therapy. Both of these methods provide weight-bearing opportunities and can help stimulate muscles and build strength and stamina.

In addition to therapy, exercise and activity-based rehabilitation, including aqua therapy, pet therapy and adaptive sports, is emphasized. These activities also increase strength and stamina and enhance social interaction, confidence and independence.

Shriners Hospitals for Children has a long history of using functional electrical stimulation (FES) to improve the functional ability of patients with SCI. FES is a sophisticated, computerized system that sends small doses of electrical current to peripheral nerves, stimulating paralyzed muscles. FES can also provide an opportunity for recreational activity and exercise.

The Shriners Hospitals' SCI program provides a complete range of services designed to ensure children and teens with spinal cord injuries recover to the greatest extent possible.