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Spinal Cord Damage - The facts!

By Jodie Douglas, Apr 23 2014 11:40AM

Thank you to the team at ClearView Wealth Limited for sharing this article!

A well written education piece.

A terribly sad day to note recently, most of you would have heard about the horrendous injury Alex McKinnon received whilst the 22 year old was playing for the Knights in the NRL. He sustained his injuries when landing on his neck as a result of a tackle by 3 opposition players. Sadly, it was announced that he will most probably now face life as a quadriplegic.

Spinal Cord Injuries are something that we don’t like to think about. It literally changes, and on more occasions than not, destroys lives. It is this topic that we write out of respect for Alex.

About the spine

The spine is central to the skeletal system. It supports the head and encloses the spinal cord. It is made up of 33 vertebrae which are classified into five regions:

1. Cervical vertebrae – there are 7 cervical vertebrae in the neck region.

2. Thoracic vertebrae – there are 12 thoracic vertebrae in the upper back region.

3. Lumbar vertebrae – there are 5 lumbar vertebrae in the lower back region.

4. Sacral vertebrae – the 5 sacral vertebrae are fused together to form the sacrum.

5. Coccygeal vertebrae – the 4 small coccygeal vertebrae are fused together to form the coccyx or tailbone.

Running down the centre of the spine is the spinal cord. The spinal cord is made up of millions of nerve fibres. These nerves are the communication link between the brain and all other parts of the body. Messages about feeling or sensation are sent to the brain via the spinal cord, and the brain sends movement or functional messages to the body, also via the spinal cord.

The diagram above illustrates the various areas of the spine and the extent of paralysis which occurs to the body when the spinal cord is injured at a certain level.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

A spinal cord injury can happen to anyone at any time. It is a permanent and irreversible injury, prevention is the only cure.

When the vertebrae of the spine are displaced or injured, the spinal cord, which is housed inside the spine, may also be injured. Spinal cord injury occurs if pressure is applied to the spinal cord, and/or the blood and oxygen supply to the cord is cut off.

The spinal cord can also become damaged as a result of the late effects of polio (commonly referred to as Post Polio Syndrome) or inflammation that may result from viral infections, abnormal immune reactions, or insufficient blood flow through the blood vessels located in the spinal cord (this can result in transverse myelitis – a neurological disorder caused by inflammation across both sides of one level, or segment, of the spinal cord).

If the spinal cord is damaged through crushing, bruising or severing, the messages to and from the brain cannot get through. The millions of nerve fibres which make up the spinal cord cannot regenerate after injury.

The damage to the spinal cord may be complete or incomplete, depending on the degree of injury to the nerve fibres. Incomplete injury can result in movement and sensation abnormalities and a complete injury usually means total loss of movement and sensation – permanent paralysis. Generally, the level and degree of injury to the spinal cord will determine the extent and areas of paralysis.

A person who has paraplegia will usually always have full use of their hands, arms and shoulders. The damage to their spinal cord will have occurred in the upper or lower back (thoracic, lumbar or sacral regions).

A person who has quadriplegia will not be able to fully use their hands, arms and shoulders. The damage to their spinal cord will have occurred in the neck (cervical region).

Spinal damage can occur at the sacral or coccygeal levels. When this occurs, the bowel, bladder and the leg area below the knee are generally affected. However, many people who injure their spinal cord at this level will be able to walk with the assistance of special aids, such as a walking stick or foot splints etc. Spinal cord injury research into nerve reconnection continues to be carried out throughout the world, including Australia.

Facts & Statistics

• Most spinal cord injuries happen to people under the age of 35.

• More than 70% of spinal cord injuries are sustained by men.

• The main causes of traumatic spinal cord injuries are road trauma, falls and water related accidents.

• In 2010-11, 40 % of Spinal Cord Injuries resulted in quadriplegia, and 60% in paraplegia

• More than 10,000 people in Australia have a spinal cord injury.

• The proportion of people with disabilities globally is rising and now stands at 1 billion, accounting for 15 per cent of the world’s population, according to the first official global report on disability.

• The lifetime cost per incidence of paraplegia is estimated to be $5 million

• The lifetime cost per incidence of quadriplegia is estimated to be $9.5 million

• The total cost of spinal cord injury in Australia is estimated to be $2 billion annually

• If just 10% of carers were able to return to the workforce because their family member with a disability had appropriate personal support, there would be a $3 billion boost into the economy.

• If just 2% of people with a disability could come off the pension to work because they had appropriate employment training, then there would be an injection of $2.5 billion into the economy.

*** Research obtained via

It is a devastating injury in so many ways; to the victim both financially and psychologically, and to friends and family of the victim.

Insurance will never be able to reimburse what has been sadly taken away. But it will make a difference!

In the best Trauma/Critical Illness contracts, “Paralysis” covers Paraplegia, Quadriplegia, Tetraplegia, Diplegia and Hemiplegia. Of course, this is just the Trauma benefit and would not be offset by any potential payouts.

For example, a client could have Trauma cover and receive a benefit for Quadriplegia. They would also be entitled to a Total Permanent Disability (TPD) payment and if they had the Lump Sum TPD option in Income Protection, they could elect to take their benefit as a lump sum, tax-free. All covers would unite for payment, potentially paying out in excess of $8 million (obviously this depends on many variables including the age of the client, the levels of cover for the client etc.).

Sadly, as noted above, injuries generally happen to those under the age of 35 (due to sports, pastimes, car accidents etc) and it is this age bracket, who generally think they’ll be invincible and are too young for insurance. They generally will be the ones who need more money for this event than most others, as they’ll potentially be facing a life sentence from this condition.

As mentioned, conditions like the above are irreversible. But there is always hope and sometimes miracles do happen. As we said, insurance will never be able to reimburse for what has been taken away but it can help prepare for one’s financial future and provide hope. Hope that one day, a miracle will happen with ongoing research, hard work and dedication in rehab. Things will never be the same again, but maybe, just maybe, their condition may not be permanent.

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