Falls are one of the most common causes of spinal cord injury (SCI). Fall-related SCI is typically separated into two categories: low falls (under 1m) and high falls (over 1m). SCI in general is associated with lasting injuries, long rehabilitation periods, and high medical bills, but few studies have compared outcomes between high and low falls specifically. An improved understanding of the causes, management, and outcomes of SCI of high and low falls is necessary to advance the treatment of these serious injuries.
To address this research gap, a recent study investigated similarities and variations in characteristics of SCI from high and low falls. A research team at the China Rehabilitation Research Center collected data from 1,858 patients who sustained SCI between 2010 and 2019, 41.7% of which were caused by falls. The data included demographic information (such as age, gender, and occupation) as well as injury-specific information (such as cause, severity, and length of stay).
After analyzing the data, the researchers determined that:
- Of the patients who sustained SCI from falling, 72.6% experienced high falls and 27.4% experienced low falls.
- Patients with fall-related SCI resulting tended to be older and had shorter rehabilitation periods than patients with non-fall related SCI.
- Low fall cases were found to increase in the older population (46-60 years old) over the study period.
- Compared to low falls, high fall cases typically occurred in younger patients (31-45 years old) and were more strongly associated with paraplegia, longer rehabilitation periods, combined injuries, and severe injuries.
- Patients employed as manual laborers or subsistence farmers were more likely to experience high falls than low falls.
These results provide valuable insight into one of the leading causes of SCI. Injuries resulting from fall-related SCI tend to be more severe than non-fall related injuries, and the proportion of SCI caused by falls (especially high falls) is increasing. High falls among young laborers have increased in parallel with the rapid growth of the construction industry in China, suggesting an urgent need for new workplace safety measures. Additionally, the increasing prevalence of low falls in the aging population necessitates increased attention to home safety, supports, and education among the elderly. This research represents an important step towards advancing SCI prevention techniques and treatment efforts among employers, caregivers, physicians, and patients.
Zhang Z, Wu Y, Wang F, & Wang W. Traumatic spinal cord injury caused by low falls and high falls: A comparative study. Journal of Orthopedic Surgery and Research. (March 2021).