Summer’s Outdoor Fun Brings Health Risks: Learn More About Spinal Cord Injury

Posted on Jun 18, 2018

Now that summer’s here, most people are spending more time traveling and enjoying the great outdoors. Road trips, playing sports and hanging out at the pool are fun, but they can also expose people to greater health risks.

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC), approximately 17,700 people in the United States suffer a spinal cord injury (SCI) each year and there are approximately 288,000 people living in the U.S. with a SCI.

Common Causes of SCI
The most common cause of spinal cord injury is trauma. Nearly 40 percent of the injuries are caused by motor vehicle accidents and more car accidents occur during summer months. Other types of trauma include:

  • Falls from heights – 31 percent
  • Violence (stabbing or gunshot wounds to the spine) – 14 percent
  • Sport injuries (swimming/diving, football, rugby, equestrian, etc.)- 8 percent

Dr. Shirley Chi, a physiatrist at the Alta Bates Summit Inpatient Acute Rehabilitation Center offers some insight for people participating in outdoor activities.

“Summertime water activities are great fun, but can also present serious danger,” says Dr. Chi. “In fact, swimming and diving accidents represent the fourth leading cause−or 8 percent−of spinal cord injuries in the country. Practicing good safety habits this summer can help prevent spinal cord injuries.”

Understanding SCI

The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord which together governs the functions of the body and mind. The brain interprets information from our body and originates control over body movement.

“The spinal cord is the highway linking the brain to the body,” says Dr. Chi. “When the spinal cord is damaged or injured, there is disruption between the exchange of information.”

Alta Bates Summit Acute Rehabilitation

For more than 50 years, the Inpatient Rehabilitation Program at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center has been helping patients regain their independence after a traumatic brain injury, stroke or debilitating spinal cord injury.

Recognized as one of the best acute rehabilitation centers in the country, Alta Bates Summit offer an intensive interdisciplinary team approach utilizing physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, recreation therapy, neuropsychology, and social work, with 24 hour acute rehabilitation nursing care under the direction of our rehabilitation physicians.

“People who sustain a spinal cord injury often have permanent and profound neurologic deficits and accompanying paralysis,” says Dr. Chi. “As a result, we can’t reverse or cure a spinal cord injury but what we can do is help patients maximize function and help them regain independence.”

In late 2014, the inpatient acute rehab program moved into a new state-of-the-art facility on three floors of the Merritt Pavilion in Oakland that boasts a 3,000 square foot gym offering a full range of rehabilitation therapies. The program also uses the Ekso robotic exoskeleton that helps survivors of stroke, spinal cord injury and other forms of lower-extremity weakness to walk again.

Dr. Chi credits the rehab center’s team approach that makes it unique and successful.

“Our team consists of certified rehabilitation nurses, social workers, neuropsychologists, speech, physical and occupational therapists that specialize in helping patients adapt to their spinal cord injury,” she says. “We’re here to help people make a positive transition back to the community.”

To learn more about the success stories at the Alta Bates Summit Acute Rehabilitation Center, please visit:

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