The back injury suffered by Brazil’s football star Neymar highlights how devastating such injuries can be. Most people occasionally have aches and pains in the back caused by poor lifting techniques, falls and incorrect ergonomics. Even a minor muscle strain can be extremely painful, but for most people, the pain is of relatively short duration compared with the long-term consequences of a spinal cord injury.
However, severe back pain and disability is usually the result of high-impact events such as car accidents, falls from significant heights, blows to the back or the top of the head, stab wounds or a high-energy fall onto the base of the spine. Such events can happen anywhere – at home, on the job or in the car. The unifying factor is that when such incidents cause damage to the spinal cord, the consequences are far more severe.
According to the Mayo Clinic, motor vehicle accidents cause more than 40 percent of spinal cord injuries each year. Violent crimes such as stabbings and shootings cause another 15 percent. Falls cause 25 percent of back injuries. Sports injuries, such as the one experienced by Neymar, cause about eight percent of spinal cord injuries. Alcohol is involved in around 25 percent of spinal cord injuries, wherever they occur.
People with spinal cord injuries can experience a wide range of symptoms, from limited mobility or paralysis to problems with breathing and bladder function, depending on where on the spine the injury occurred. Most people do not recover completely from spinal cord injuries, and it takes a long time for a victim to get to the point of maximum functionality.
Victims need to learn to use adaptive equipment and engage in ongoing physical therapy programs for the rest of their lives to maintain their functionality. Many spinal cord injury victims will not recover sufficiently to be able to work and will struggle financially as a result.
Although great strides have been made in the treatment of spinal cord injuries, it is important to acknowledge that the long term prognosis for victims of such injuries is still very uncertain.