Spinal Cord Injury Life Expectancy

During World War I and World War II, the life expectancy of an individual suffering a spinal cord injury could generally be measured in weeks rather than years. Lack of medical knowledge, poor initial stabilisation of spinal injury, and the lack of knowledge to formulate an effective care plan to prevent secondary complications further contributed to a high mortality rate. The main causes of death were repiratory infections, pressure sores, kidney failure, urinary tract infections and septicemia.

In the 20 years following World War II, better medical procedures and preventative care improved significantly to a point where someone who died in the 1960/70s could expect to have lived on average around 10 years. The main cause of death amongst this group was due to chest infections, urinary tract infections, kidney failure and suicide. Kidney failure was predominantly due to reflux of urine damaging the kidneys due to poor bladder management.

As medical science advanced and the mechanisms of spinal cord injuries and secondary complications were better understood, acute injury stabilisation, care and long term care standards improved which resulted in an average lifespan in the 1980’s of around 30 years. The leading causes of death in 9135 persons injured between 1973 and 1984 were pneumonia, non-ischemic heart disease, septicemia, pulmonary emboli, and ischemic heart disease. Rehabilitation raised better awareness of the importance of correct bladder care reducing kidney damage, the need to prevent pressure sores and the need to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Currently over half of those with a spinal cord injury can expect a survival rate of around 40 years from initial injury. Over the last 30 years since 1985 life expectancy has remained constant and not increased. Factors affecting life span include the age at injury, level of injury, type of spinal cord injury (incomplete vs complete), alcohol abuse, smoking and socioeconomic factors.

A key indicator for increased life expectancy is the ability of an individual to survive the first two years following injury. The life expectancy does decrease more significantly in higher cervical ventilator dependent injuries.

With the correct support from spinal cord injury professionals, government organisations and healthcare professionals, the quality of life for someone with a spinal cord injury is the highest it has been. Advances in the diagnostics and treatments for once lethal spinal cord injury associated conditions has resulted in extending the life expectancy for many who would have otherwise faced death.

Below is a list of sources giving information and statistics on the life expectancy of individuals following a spinal cord injury.

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Facts and Figures at a Glance from The National SCI Statistical Center

This fact sheet is a quick reference on demographics and the use of services by people with spinal cord injury (SCI).The National SCI Database is a prospective longitudinal multicenter study that captures data from an estimated 13% of new SCI cases in the U.S. from 28 federally funded SCI Model Systems since 1973.

Annual Statistical Reports

Spinal Cord Injury Life Expectancy Calculator

The Life Expectancy Project

The Life Expectancy Project is a research and educational group. We study life expectancy of persons who have sustained spinal cord injury as well as other conditions.

Life Expectancy Articles

Life Expectancy After Spinal Cord Injury - A 50 Year Study

To analyse acute and long-term mortality, estimate life expectancy and identify survival patterns of individuals experiencing traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). Data for patients with traumatic SCI admitted to a spinal unit in Sydney, Australia between January 1955 and June 2006 were collated and deaths confirmed. Cumulative survival probability was estimated using life-table techniques and mortality rates were calculated from the number of deaths and aggregate years of exposure. Standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) were estimated from the ratio of observed to expected number of deaths. Life expectancy was then estimated using adjusted attained age-specific mortality rates.

Article Link

Spinal Cord Injury Life Expectancy Articles

Le CT, Price M. Survival from spinal cord injury. J Chronic Dis. 1982;35(6):487-92.

Geisler WO, Jousse AT, Wynne-Jones M, Breithaupt D. Survival in traumatic spinal cord injury. Paraplegia. 1983;21(6):364-73.

Minaire P, Demolin P, Bourret J, Girard R, Berard E, Deidier C, et al. Life expectancy following spinal cord injury: a ten-years survey in the Rhone-Alpes Region, France, 1969-1980. Paraplegia. 1983;21(1):11-5.

DeVivo MJ, Black KJ, Stover SL. Causes of death during the first 12 years after spinal cord injury. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1993;74(3):248-54.

Samsa GP, Patrick CH, Feussner JR. Long-term survival of veterans with traumatic spinal cord injury. Arch Neurol. 1993;50(9):909-14.

DeVivo MJ, Ivie CS, 3rd. Life expectancy of ventilator-dependent persons with spinal cord injuries. Chest. 1995;108(1):226-32.

Watt JW, Wiredu E, Silva P, Meehan S. Survival after short- or long-term ventilation after acute spinal cord injury: a single-centre 25-year retrospective study. Spinal Cord. 2011;49(3):404-10.

Hartkopp A, Bronnum-Hansen H, Seidenschnur AM, Biering-Sorensen F. Survival and cause of death after traumatic spinal cord injury. A long-term epidemiological survey from Denmark. Spinal Cord. 1997;35(2):76-85.

McColl MA, Walker J, Stirling P, Wilkins R, Corey P. Expectations of life and health among spinal cord injured adults. Spinal Cord. 1997;35(12):818-28.

Yeo JD, Walsh J, Rutkowski S, Soden R, Craven M, Middleton J. Mortality following spinal cord injury. Spinal Cord. 1998;36(5):329-36.

Strauss DJ, Devivo MJ, Paculdo DR, Shavelle RM. Trends in life expectancy after spinal cord injury. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2006;87(8):1079-85.

DeVivo MJ, Krause JS, Lammertse DP. Recent trends in mortality and causes of death among persons with spinal cord injury. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1999;80(11):1411-9.

Strauss D, DeVivo M, Shavelle R, Brooks J, Paculdo D. Economic factors and longevity in spinal cord injury: a reappraisal. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2008;89(3):572-4.

Krause JS, Saunders LL. Health, secondary conditions, and life expectancy after spinal cord injury. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation. 2011;92(11):1770-5.

Krause JS, Saunders LL, DeVivo MJ. Income and risk of mortality after spinal cord injury. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation. 2011;92(3):339-45. PMCID: 3181072.

Devivo MJ. Epidemiology of traumatic spinal cord injury: trends and future implications. Spinal Cord. 2012;50(5):365-72.

Groah SL, Charlifue S, Tate D, Jensen MP, Molton IR, Forchheimer M, et al. Spinal cord injury and aging: challenges and recommendations for future research. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation / Association of Academic Physiatrists. 2012;91(1):80-93.

Krause JS, Saunders LL. Socioeconomic and behavioral risk factors for mortality: do risk factors observed after spinal cord injury parallel those from the general USA population? Spinal Cord. 2012.

Shavelle RM, Paculdo DR, Tran LM, Strauss DJ, Brooks JC, DeVivo MJ (2015). Mobility, continence, and life expectancy in persons with ASIA impairment scale grade D spinal cord injuries. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 94:180-191.

Shavelle RM, DeVivo MJ, Brooks JC, Strauss DJ, Paculdo DR (2015). Improvements in long-term survival after spinal cord injury? Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 96:645-651.