Spinal cord trauma can be caused by a number of injuries to the spine, including:
- Gunshot wounds
- Industrial accidents
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Sports injuries (particularly diving into shallow water)
A minor injury can cause spinal cord injury if the spine is weakened (such as from rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis) or if the spinal canal protecting the spinal cord has become too narrow (spinal stenosis) due to the normal aging process.
Direct injury, such as cuts, can occur to the spinal cord, especially if the bones or the disks have been weakened. Fragments of bone (for example, from broken vertebrae, which are the spine bones) or fragments of metal (such as from a traffic accident or gunshot) can cut or damage the spinal cord.
Direct damage can also occur if the spinal cord is pulled, pressed sideways, or compressed. This may occur if the head, neck, or back are twisted abnormally during an accident or intense chiropractic manipulation.
Bleeding, fluid buildup, and swelling can occur inside or outside the spinal cord (but within the spinal canal). The buildup of blood or fluid can press on the spinal cord and damage it.
Most spinal cord trauma happens to young, healthy individuals. Men ages 15 - 35 are most commonly affected. The death rate tends to be higher in young children with spinal injuries.
Risk factors include:
- Participating in risky physical activities
- Not wearing protective gear during work or play
- Diving into shallow water
Older people with weakened spines (from osteoporosis) may be more likely to have a spinal cord injury. Patients who have other medical problems (stroke or prostate cancer, for example) that make them more likely to fall may also be more susceptible.