Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report that falls have now overtaken motor vehicle accidents as being the leading cause of spinal cord injuries in the country. The study, led by Dr. Shalini Selvarajah (a surgical research fellow at Johns Hopkins), reports that a whopping 41.5 percent of spinal cord injuries seen in emergency rooms across America were the result of falls. By comparison, car accidents are currently responsible for about 35 percent of spine injuries.

The study, recently published in the medical industry publication Journal of Neurotrauma, began with careful analysis of more than 43,000 medical records of patients who sought emergency treatment for spinal cord injuries between 2007 and 2009. The team sorted the myriad ways in which patients were injured and classified those into categories to determine which causes were responsible for the most injuries.

The research team found that while the fall-related spinal injuries in the younger demographics - patients aged 18 to 64 - decreased over the study period, the rate sharply increased among patients over the age of 65. This trend, disturbing as it may be, points to some possible solutions: increasing awareness of the possibility of fall-related back or neck injuries and taking additional action in the area of fall prevention for the elderly could help reverse this trend.

It isn't necessarily news that older people are more susceptible to injuries should they fall. After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that treatment of fall-related injuries among the elderly costs about $30 billion annually after inflation, but the extent of the damage done is surprising. According to data analyzed by the Johns Hopkins researchers, older people are four times more likely to die in the emergency room after suffering a serious spinal cord injury. Once spinal injury patients are admitted, the outlook for elderly patients is even more grim; they are six times more likely to die in an in-patient setting as a result of their injuries than a younger patient.

While no specific data was cited, the team speculates that the number of car accident-related spinal cord injuries is decreasing because of evolving vehicle safety features like airbags, better seat belts, widespread seat belt usage laws and the steel framework of the passenger compartment in many newer automobiles.

Regardless of the reason for it, a traumatic spinal cord injury is devastating. Not only is it expensive, easily costing $1 million or more for treatment of a severe injury, it can result in paralysis, numbness, weakness or even death. If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury due to the negligence or reckless actions of another person or business, seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney in your area.