Make smart decisions to reduce risk for spinal cord injury

Published: September 7, 2008  |  Source: hattiesburgamerican.com
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With fair weather and more tolerable temperatures, the arrival of late summer and fall months often draws people outdoors to enjoy a variety of activities.

However, as people spend more time outdoors, their exposure to high risk behavior increases. This increase in high risk behavior can often lead to higher rates of injury, especially potentially disabling or fatal spinal cord injuries. Fortunately, careful attention to surroundings and safety can often help people avoid these life threatening accidents.

The spinal cord is a complex system, composed of nerves, bone and cartilage, supported by muscles and ligaments. The spine enables humans to stand straight and move to achieve a variety of positions for everyday movements. It also contains nerve cells that communicate with the brain and the rest of the body for vital neurological functions.

The primary nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord typically do not re-grow if damage occurs after early childhood. Damage caused to this complex system can lead to lifelong Disability and even death.

In persons under age 30, recreational activities often create high risk for spinal cord injury. In this region, injuries involving motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles are very common, as well as activities such as swimming or diving, horseback riding, water skiing, skating, biking, skateboard or rip stick riding, and contact sports. Always familiarize yourself with pools, lakes, and creeks in which you are going to swim.

For those under the age of 65, Motor vehicle accidents are a major cause of spinal cord injury. Never drive a motorized vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as this causes the driver’s judgment to be impaired, and places risk on the driver’s life, as well as others on the road. Simply wearing a seat belt significantly reduces the chance of head and spinal cord injury for those involved in an accident.

In persons over the age of 65, falls are the most common cause of spinal cord injury. As we age, our spine becomes more rigid, and bone spurs can form. Even minor falls can result in spinal cord injury.

“In my years of medical experience, I have seen countless cases of severe injury where wearing a seat belt could have allowed the victim to walk away from the crash, or prevented injury altogether,” said neurosurgeon David C. Lee, president of Southern Neurologic and Spinal Institute in Hattiesburg. “There are very few accidents where the victim was better off without the seatbelt. Please don’t take a chance — buckle up for your own benefit and for the benefit of others.”

Even simple safety steps can reduce your risk for spinal cord injury:

• Always wear a seatbelt. Children under the age of 12 should ride in the back seat and be restrained in an age-appropriate car seat.

• Always wear a helmet when engaging in risky activities such as biking or skating.

• Never dive head-first into unfamiliar lakes, pools or other bodies of water.

• Minimize the risk of falls for the elderly by installing non-slip mats and hand rails in bathrooms and showers and wearing non-slip shoes.

• Avoid reaching for objects above your head without a sturdy step stool or ladder.

• Never drive or engage in risky activities while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

For additional information regarding spinal cord injury prevention, visit the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation web site at www.thinkfirst.org or call FGH OnCall at (800) 844-4445.