The Australian Spinal Injury Alliance represents eight of Australia’s state-based spinal cord injury organisations, and has been established to provide a national voice for Australians who have sustained a spinal cord injury.

Members of the Alliance include: Australian Quadriplegic Association Victoria (AQA Victoria), Independence Australia (VIC), ParaQuad Association of Tasmania, ParaQuad NSW, PARAQUAD SA, Spinal Cord Injuries Australia, Spinal Life Australia and Spine & Limb Foundation (WA).

The Alliance is the first of its kind in Australia to bring together state-based spinal cord injury organisations in order to leverage their expertise and existing communities for the benefit of all Australians who have sustained a spinal cord injury.

The Alliance will focus on five key priorities: government liaison, advocacy, injury prevention, awareness raising and information sharing.

The Alliance’s goal is also to deliver a National Spinal Cord Injury Strategy that will lay the foundation for better outcomes, both social and economic, for all Australians who have sustained a spinal cord injury.

Established in November 2012, the Spinal Alliance held its inaugural meeting in Sydney in June 2013 ahead of the 2013 Awareness Week.

The following statistics represent the latest available national statistics of spinal cord injuries, from case registrations to the Australian Spinal Cord Injury Registry (ASCIR).

Age and Sex Distribution

  • Of reported traumatic spinal cord injury, 84% are male and 16% female.
  • Spinal cord injuries were most frequent in 15-24 year old age group (accounting for 30%)
  • A significant increase in the average age at injury is one that is being reported internationally and is likely to be a reflection of the ageing population
  • An increase is also seen in the 65-74 year age group sustaining a spinal cord injury

Individual state/territory incidence (based on usual residence of patient) is as follows (highest to lowest):

  • Northern Territory (highest incidence rate)
  • Western Australia
  • South Australia
  • Queensland
  • New South Wales
  • Tasmania
  • Victoria
  • ACT

Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries in Australia

Approximately 80% of newly reported spinal cord injury cases are due to traumatic injury (i.e. accident related). These consist of:

  • 46% – motor vehicle related incidents
    • Of these transport related incidents 51% were motor vehicle occupants and 49% were unprotected road users, predominantly motorcyclists (79%). The vast majority of unprotected road users were male (92%), and they tended to be younger with over half (56%) in the 15-34 years of age group.
  • 28% – related to falls
    • Of all falls related incidents 64% were from a height of one metre or more, 41% of low falls (same level or less than one metre) involved people aged 65 years or over, compared to only 13% of falls greater than one metre involving this age group.
  • 9% – resulted from being hit or struck by an object
    • Where a spinal cord injury incident happened when working for an income, of these 44% related to transport incidents, 23% as a result of falls over one metre and 23% reported as being struck or colliding with a person or object.
  • 9% – were water-related
    • The activity being undertaken at the time of spinal cord injury was documented in half of the spinal cord injury cases. Leisure activities accounted for 35% of these with just over half being attributed to diving, surfing, swimming or jumping into bodies of water.
  • 8% – were from other causes
    • Other leisure activities documented included; major football codes, pedal cycle races, horse-related activities.
  • Approximately 21% of newly reported spinal cord injury cases are non-traumatic. This group consists of medical conditions such as vascular disorders, degenerative spinal conditions, genetic disorders and cancerous lesions.

Social impact

  • Spinal cord injury has enormous health, social and economic impacts on individuals, families and communities. As well as the physical and psychological impact on those affected directly by spinal cord injury, there is also a heavy burden on those who support and care for them.
  • Socio-economic factors known to be important in relation to injury and rehabilitation are marital status, employment status and educational level attained at the time of onset of the spinal cord injury.

Types of Spinal Cord Injury

The extent of a spinal cord injury is relative to the extent of neurological damage, which is either ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete’ and to the level of the spinal cord that is affected. The extent of the neurological damage provides a predictor for recovery, but the vast majority of people with a spinal cord injury have long-term neurological loss.

The most common categories of spinal cord injury in order are;

Incomplete Quadriplegia * (38%) – refers to loss of movement and/or sensation in all four limbs, but there is some nerve function from the spinal nerves furthest from the brain.

Incomplete Paraplegia (27%) – refers to loss of movement and/or sensation in the lower limbs (and trunk), but there is some nerve function from the spinal nerves furthest from the brain.

Complete Paraplegia (20%) – refers to loss of movement and/or sensation in the lower limbs (and trunk)

Complete Quadriplegia * (15%) – refers to loss of movement and/or sensation in all four limbs

* Quadriplegia is also known as Tetraplegia

All data referenced in this document is cited from the following source:

Norton L, Spinal Cord Injury, Australia 2007-08, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Injury Research and Statistics Series Number 52. Canberra; 2010