Modified: December 4, 2022

What Is the Life Expectancy of Someone with a Spinal Cord Injury?

What Is the Life Expectancy of Someone with a Spinal Cord Injury?

The purpose of this page is to analyze the conditions surrounding individuals who have experienced traumatic spinal cord injury. (SCI) This includes long-term and acute mortality, identity survival patterns, and estimated life expectancy.

In addition to this, we also discuss why it would be advantageous for sufferers to seek aggressive and effective legal services from a Los Angeles Spinal Cord Injury Attorney. Continue reading to learn more about these injuries and how we can assist you.

An Overview

Patients suffering from spinal cord injuries are likely to suffer from paralysis, along with numerous other severe health problems associated with this condition. Additionally, spinal cord patients are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, sexual, bowel, and bladder dysfunction, life-threatening blood clots, pneumonia, constipation, other gastrointestinal problems, chronic pain, and pressure ulcers. It’s evident that these issues also result in the deterioration of a sufferer’s life expectancy.

It’s vital to accurately identify and predict life expectancy and factors contributing to increased mortality and after sustaining a spinal cord injury. The reason for this is that lifetime case management and care planning can take this information and use it to develop future service models while targeting prevention interventions and health promotion. This is what our Los Angeles Spinal Cord Injury Attorneys do for spine injury victims.

Extensive research is available to understand better the link between life expectancy and spinal cord injuries. This is useful as it helps determine the standardized mortality ratios, quality of life, and life expectancy after spinal cord injury has occurred.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

Spinal cord injuries are the damage sustained to any part of the spinal cord (or nerves present at the end of the spinal canal called caudal equina). This type of injury can lead to sufferers experiencing long-term or permanent changes in sensation, strength, and other body functions below the site of this spinal cord injury.

What are the Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries?

Individuals might suffer a spinal cord injury from damage to the discs, ligaments, or vertebrae of the spinal column or to the entire spinal cord itself. A traumatic spinal cord injury can develop from a traumatic and sudden blow to your spine that crushes, dislocates, fractures, or compresses one or multiple of your vertebrae.

Nonetheless, a knife or gunshot penetrating and cutting your spinal cord can cause this spinal cord injury. The extra damage can occur over days or even weeks because of inflammation, sweeping, bleeding, and fluid accumulation around and in your spinal cord. Cancer, arthritis, infections, inflammation, disk degeneration of the spine may also cause non-traumatic spinal cord injuries.

The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. Soft tissue makes up the spinal cord and includes bones (called vertebrae), which travel downward from the base of your brain. This spinal cord has groups of nerve cells and nerves known as tracts, which extend to different body parts.

The lower part of the spinal cord ends above the waist in the conus medullaris. A group of nerve roots (known as the caudal equina) is present below this region. The tract sound in your spinal cord sends messages to your brain and the remaining parts of your body.

Motor tracts function to carry messages from your brain that help control muscle movement. On the other hand, sensory tracts send signals from the other parts of your body to your brain in regards to the position, possible pain, pressure, cold, or heat felt by your limbs.

When discussing the cause of this spinal cord injury, the traumatic or non-traumatic damage affects the nerve fibers present in the injured part. of the spinal cord. This damage might impair part of or your entire corresponding nerves and muscles below the site of the injury.

In addition to this, lower back (lumbar) or chest (thoracic) injuries can also hinder your sexual function, bladder and bowel control, legs, and torso. In contrast, a neck (cervical) injury affects the above-mentioned areas and arm movements while many sufferers might find that their ability to breathe is adversely impacted.

What Causes Spinal Cord Injuries?

Research has shown that the most prevalent causes of spinal cord injuries in the US include: 

  • Falls – Any spinal cord injuries sustained over the age of 65 are likely caused by a fall. In addition to this, falls account for 31 percent of all spinal cord injuries.
  • Motor vehicle or motorcycle accident – Motorcycle and auto accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries in the US and account for more than half of new spinal cord injury cases every year.
  • Acts of violence – Physical fights and abuse can lead to these injuries that can cause a reduction in life expectancy.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol plays a distinctive role in the causing of one in every four spinal cord injuries occurring each year.
  • Sports and recreation injuries – Athletic activities (including diving in shallow water and impact sports) cause more than 10 percent of such injuries.
  • Diseases – Osteoporosis, arthritis, cancer, and inflammation of the spinal cord can lead to injuries in this area.

Risk Factors

Even though spinal cord injury is generally the result of an accident and can happen to anyone, certain factors might predispose individuals to a higher risk of suffering this type of injury. Such risk factors include:

  • Being male – Statics have shown that a disproportionate number of men suffer from spinal cord injuries.
  • Being between the ages of 16 and 30 – Individuals are more likely to suffer a traumatic spinal cord injury when they are between the ages of 16 and 30. Statics have shown that 43 years old is the average age people suffer this spinal cord injury.
  • Being more than 65 years old – Falling causes most spinal cord injuries in more mature adults.
  • Having a joint or bone disorder – Sustaining a relatively minor injury can lead to a spinal cord injury if you have another existing disorder affecting your joints or bones. This includes osteoporosis or arthritis.
  • Engaging in risky behavior – You can cause spinal cord injuries when you’re playing sports without wearing the appropriate safety gear, diving into too-shallow water, or not taking the right safety precautions. From extensive reports, motor vehicle crashes are the leading reason for spinal cord injuries (for people under 65 years old).

What are the Types of Spinal Cord Injuries?

You can divide the various spinal cord injuries into two types. These are either a complete spinal cord injury or an incomplete spinal cord injury. These types of spinal cord injuries have significant differences like:

A complete spinal cord injury forms when a victim sustains permanent damage to the affected area of the spinal cord. Tetraplegia or paraplegia are the results of complete spinal cord injuries.

On the other hand, incomplete spinal cord injury classifies partial damage to the spinal cord. From this partial damage, a person’s ability to move and have feelings is dependent on the location of this injury on the spinal cord and its severity.

The outcomes of this incomplete spinal cord injury are dependent on various factors. These factors include the patient’s health and medical history.

What are the Levels to Spinal Cord Injuries?

A spinal cord has four sections. These are the sacral, lumbar, thoracic, and cervical. Each of these sections of the spine works to protect various groups of nerves controlling the body. The severity and types of spinal cord injuries are dependent on the damaged area of the spine.

  • Cervical spinal cord injury – these injuries affect the neck and the head region above the shoulders. These cervical spinal cord injuries are the most severe level of spinal cord injury a patient can get.
  • Lumbar spinal cord injury – these injuries affect the legs and the hips. Individuals suffering from lumbar spinal cord injuries might require a wheelchair. In other instances, these patients might walk with braces.
  • Thoracic spinal cord injury – these injuries affect the abdominal muscles, mid-back, and upper chest. Patients can typically maintain regular hand and arm function with this level of spinal cord injury.
  • Sacral spinal cord injury – these injuries affect the back of the thighs, hips, pelvic organs, and buttocks. Patients suffering from this level of spinal cord injury are likely to walk after sustaining this damage to the spine.

The Complications Associated with a Spinal Cord Injury

Changes to a patient’s body functions might be overwhelming at the beginning. Nonetheless, a rehabilitation team works to help individuals develop the right tools required to address these changes caused by a spinal cord injury. In addition to this, these rehab teams are also equipped to recommend resources and equipment, which help to promote quality of life and offer independence to those suffering. Areas typically affected include:

  • Bowel control – Control of bowel movements is generally altered even though the intestines and the stomach work like before the injury. Additionally, many specialists state that a high-fiber diet can help regulate these bowel movements and patients can learn techniques to optimize these bowel movements. Sufferers can learn these bowel movements during rehabilitation.
  • Bladder control – The bladder continues to store urine from your kidneys. Nonetheless, these sufferers’ brains might not be able to control their bladder. This is because the spinal cord commonly carrying these messages from the brain to the bladder has sustained damage and can’t function as before. Bladder control changes can increase a patient’s risk of urinary tract infections. These changes can also lead to kidney infections, bladder, or kidney stones.
  • Circulatory control – A spinal cord injury can lead to circulatory problems. These range from low blood pressure to the patient’s extremities swelling. These changes in circulation might also contribute to the risk of blood clots developing. These include pulmonary embolus or deep vein thrombosis. Life-threatening rises in blood pressure are another cause for concern. Nonetheless, a rehabilitation team can help address these issues.
  • Skin sensation – Patients might have lost a percentage of or complete sensation in the skin. Due to this, sufferers’ skin can’t send a message to the brain when it’s injured. This can include injury from cold, heat, or prolonged pressure. This makes these patients more susceptible to pressure sores. However, changing positions frequently helps prevent this from occurring.
  • Respiratory system – A spinal cord injury makes it more difficult to breathe and cough. This is if your injury has affected her chest and abdominal muscles and includes your diaphragm. The injury’s neurological level determines what kind of breathing problems a patient is going to have. Thoracic or cervical spinal cord injury can increase the risk of pneumonia (and other lung problems). Therapy and medication are useful for preventing and treating these problems.
  • Muscle tone – Some spinal cord sufferers can experience two types of muscle tone problems. These include the uncontrollable motion of tightening in the muscles (spasticity) or limp and soft muscles that lack muscle tone (flaccidity).
  • Wellness and fitness – Muscle atrophy and weight loss are incredibly common after sustaining a spinal cord injury. So, however, gain weight. Limited mobility can cause a more sedentary lifestyle. This places patients at risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Nonetheless, dietitians can help these patients create more nutritious meal plans, which help sustain a healthy weight. Occupational and physical therapists can also help create a healthy exercise and fitness program.
  • Pain – Some patients experience pain. This includes joint and muscle pain, which is the result of overusing specific muscle groups. Nerve pain occurs after sustaining this spinal cord injury and is especially prevalent in someone with an incomplete injury.
  • Sexual health – Fertility, sexuality, and sexual function might become adversely affected by a spinal cord injury. Some male patients might notice changes in ejaculation and erection. Female patients might find changes in their lubrication. Physicians who specialize in fertility or urology can provide options for fertility and sexual functioning.
  • Depression – Some patients might suffer from depression after sustaining this spinal cord injury. Coping with these changes to a person’s lifestyle and body can be incredibly challenging. Not to mention, the pain felt from such injuries can also play a role in an individual developing depression.

What is the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Process? (Injury Arch Phys Med Rehabil)

Rehabilitation is one of the most essential treatment plans for anyone suffering from a spinal cord injury. Victims of a spinal cord injury require fair compensation for the medical costs involved in this rehabilitation, which is why many sufferers seek compassionate injury lawyers. This can help patients easily receive their workers’ compensation (for example) from an insurance company. This company can help pay for this rehabilitation.

It’s vital to seek rehabilitation, as this helps to avoid complications as much as possible. Not to mention, patients can also improve function and gain the most independence, which enhances their complete life expectancy.

Several rehabilitation strategies are available from various studies (like the American Spinal Injury Association) and have shown a massive impact on patient recovery. This rehabilitation has also shown that reduced mortality is evident after spinal cord injury while the life expectancy of persons with spinal cord damage can still live a relatively high-quality life.

Rehabilitation Strategies

SCI is a severe neurological condition that demands an extensive rehabilitation process. Not to mention, a multidisciplinary team should coordinate this Spinal Cord Injury Arch Phys Med Rehabil program. This is because of the damage entailed in such a process. Some of the core parts of this process include a range of movement, strength, stretching exercises, epidural electrical stimulation (EES) of the spinal cord, functional electrical stimulation (FES), dry needling, occupational therapy, and exoskeleton.

How Does a Spinal Cord Injury Shorten Your Lifespan?

The spine is the vehicle offering the most vital messaging systems in a person’s entire body. However, a spinal cord injury can severely hinder this messaging process from the brain to the rest of the body. For this reason, the patient’s lifespan can diminish because improper processes are taking place in the body. One example is that sufferers of damage to the spinal cord have a higher risk of heart disease, life-threatening blood clots, pneumonia, chronic pain, and many other conditions. Approximately 94 percent of patients suffer chronic pain, which can work to diminish the quality of life and adversely affect their life expectancy.

How do Quadriplegics Die?

Studies have shown that quadriplegics are likely to die from pneumonia. This applies to quadriplegics (patients with paralysis from the neck down) and patients who are older than 55 years. Nonetheless, many patients also take their own lives. These suicide rates are directly linked to many patients suffering from depression, as a result of sustaining these spinal cord injuries.

What is the Quality of Life for Quadriplegics (and Other Patients Suffering from a Spinal Cord Injury)?

The general population of those suffering from a spinal cord injury (whether they are paraplegic, quadriplegic, or tetraplegia) have a quality of life consisting of nine varied themes. This is regardless of the severity of impairment. These themes are:

  • Emotional wellbeing
  • Physical function and independence
  • Spontaneity
  • Accessibility
  • Stigma
  • Social function and relationships
  • Physical wellbeing
  • Finances
  • Occupation

These themes are all incredibly similar for paraplegics and quadriplegics. However, physical wellbeing and physical function, and independence affected quadriplegics’ quality of life to a greater extent.

Long-Term Survival

The overall survival rate (at 40 years post-injury) for persons with tetraplegia is sitting at 47 percent in comparison to the 62 percent for those suffering from paraplegia. This long-term survival is closely linked to neurological level.

However, individuals can’t ignore the degree of impairment. Nonetheless, patients should also consider that not every group has injuries sufficient to present valid results for more than 30 years duration.

Age-Specific Mortality Rates

People with tetraplegia have a great risk of mortality after spinal cord injury compared to sufferers of paraplegia. From research performed, 4.1 percent of people with paraplegia died within 12 months of injury.

On the other hand, 8.2 percent of tetraplegia patients died within one year of suffering this injury. These mortality (after spinal cord injury) figures apply to individuals under the age of 70 years old. Not enough data is present to make an accurate judgment for the mortality rates of patients older than this.

Life Expectancy After Spinal Cord Injury

Individuals that are under the age of 60 years old at the time of sustaining this injury have a life expectancy after SCI of approximately 7.7 years. This life expectancy is for individuals with high tetraplegia. Additionally, sufferers of low tetraplegia have a life expectancy after SCI of 9.9 years. Studies have shown that the life expectancy of patients with paraplegia is approximately 12.8 years. Nonetheless, research has shown that life expectancy for these sufferers hasn’t improved in the last 30 years.

Causes of Death

As mentioned, the overall leading cause of death for patients suffering a spinal cord injury was pneumonia. However, the other causes of death among these patients were suicides and other unintentional injuries. Additionally, the highest ratios of expected and actual causes of death among these patients were also pulmonary emboli and septicemia.

Why Should You Seek Legal Action if You Have Suffered a Spinal Cord Injury?

Whether a spinal cord injury has resulted from a fall, car accident, or another reason, the impact this has on the victim can be devastating. Not to mention, the medical expenses associated with this injury can be astronomical. In cases like this, it’s incredibly advantageous to file a lawsuit and gain compensation for this pain and suffering.

The Legal Basis of Spinal Cord Injury Lawsuits

Caused by Negligence

The majority of spinal cord injury lawsuits formate from a legal theory described as negligence. This entails that such injury occurred from the negligence of another party. Meaning, the other party is legally at fault or responsible for this injury and should suffer the consequences in a legal setting. Being hit by a motorcycle or car is one example of where negligence is the reason behind this injury.

Caused by Defective Products 

Individuals are likely entitled to compensation if a victim’s spinal cord injury was the result of a dangerous or defective product. Faulty seatbelts or airbags that led to an individual sustaining this injury in a car accident could be an example of these defective products.

Typical Defenses in Spinal Cord Cases

Comparative and Contributory Negligence 

It’s common for defendants in spinal cord injury lawsuits to bring the injured party’s own carelessness into question. In many instances, these defendants argue that it was also the victim’s carelessness that contributed to this injury. This is a tactic used to excuse the defendant from being legally at fault. Defendants may argue that the victim’s intoxication was the main reason for the formation of this injury. One reason for this is that alcohol is typically a prevalent factor in many spinal cord injury cases. The creation of such defense is from legal theories called contributory negligence and comparative negligence. This is where the victim’s carelessness contributed to the injury and where the defendant’s and victim’s relative carelessness are equal.

Assumption of Risk 

Defendants are likely to use the ‘assumption of risk’ defense when the formation of this spinal cord injury was while victims were partaking in a dangerous activity. This defense argues that victims chose to take part in an activity that contributed to the creation of this injury. Thus, victims shouldn’t receive compensation for such injuries.

Compensation in Spinal Cord Lawsuits

The primary purpose of a monetary gain in any spinal cord injury case is to compensate the injured person for the losses caused by such damage. This payment helps restore the victim to their pre-accident condition. The court typically calls this payment ‘damages.’

These damages generally include compensation going above and beyond reimbursing for ‘pain and suffering’ and accumulated medical expenses. This monetary compensation can accommodate ongoing rehabilitation and health care, assistive devices (such as motorized wheelchairs), and any modifications to the victim’s house. This can include stairlifts and access ramps.

What do Los Angeles Spinal Cord Injury Attorneys do?

The process involved in these spinal cord injury lawsuits is more complex. For this reason, victims find it easier and more hassle-free to seek legal assistance when filing this lawsuit. It’s imperative that victims seek such legal services from attorneys who specialize in spinal cord injury litigation. The overall objective of these attorneys is to seek the necessary compensation entitled to the victim.

Helping Receive Compensation from a Spinal Cord Injury Lawsuit

As mentioned previously, these lawsuits are extremely complex. This means that there are many forms of compensation a victim can receive. It’s the attorney’s role to identify what damages are relative in the specific case and fight for such compensation. Here are the various damages victims can receive:

  • Medical bills – Plaintiffs can recover compensation for any accumulated medical bills created from this injury. These might include prescription drugs, hospitalization, rehabilitation, ongoing medical care, doctor visits, and any foreseeable medical expenses.
  • Lost wages – Victims should receive compensation for time spent away from their work. In addition to this, they can compensate for a loss of earning capacity.
  • Wrongful death – A victim’s family can sue the negligent party if a spinal cord injury results in death. The family might receive damage based on the victim’s pain and suffering in such instances. Not to mention, they can also receive money to ease the financial burden created by the victim’s absence.
  • Pain and suffering – Victims can experience lasting emotional and physical pain when suffering damage to their spinal cord. This can lead to compensation for pain and suffering.

What Can We Do for You as LA’s Top Spinal Cord Injury Law Firm?

Our goal is to assist severely injured accident victims gain the rightful compensation. We pride ourselves on winning more than $150 million for satisfied customers who got injured from someone else’s negligence. Filing these types of lawsuits requires extensive training and specialized skill, which our team has.

Our thorough knowledge of the legal system provides us with the expertise clients need to gain the compensation they deserve. However, it’s not only our knowledge that gives us an edge in the courtroom. It’s also our aggressive nature, fighting spirit, and passion that help us fight for our clients’ needs. We understand that suffering this injury can be a traumatic and challenging time. This is why we wish to make the process of gaining your entailed compensation easier.

Are You a Victim of Someone Else’s Negligence?

Were you severely injured in an accident and require legal services today? You can receive a free consultation from one of our experienced and aggressive personal injury attorneys today. All you need to do is call us at (213) 596-9642 today to gain the help you deserve. Alternatively, you can use our convenient online consultation form. This form can help you obtain rapid legal advice from one of our charismatic and compassionate spine injury lawyers at our law firm in Los Angeles.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the average personal injury lawsuit case cost? 

It’s challenging to come up with the average number as each case is different. However, clients can expect to pay around $10,000 for a simple lawsuit. Nonetheless, our law firm is considerate and understands that this isn’t always possible, which is why we offer many financial options to our clients.

How long does it take to settle a personal injury case? 

Most personal injury claims settle in several months to one year. However, this process can take longer for more complex cases.

Is it worth getting a lawyer after being in a car accident? 

It’s extremely advantageous to have a personal injury lawyer look at your case before you agree to any compensation or settlement. In addition to this, these lawyers can also help you build the best case possible if you need to seek legal action and receive the best compensation possible.

By doing this, you prevent yourself from having to pay out of pocket for medical bills and many other expenses.

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Michael Ehline

Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.

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