Spinal Injuries in Motorcycle Accidents

The most common injury in a motorcycle accident is a tibial and fibular fracture; however, other injuries can occur as well. Most motorcycle accidents involve high speeds and lack of ability to correctly drive the vehicle. Besides extremity injuries, motorcycle injuries can result in spinal damage, including those that cause permanent paralysis.

In one British study of motorcycle accidents, there were isolated spinal injuries in 23 percent of cases. The thoracic spine was injured in more than half of the cases. This area is relatively well protected by the rest of the body so it only points to the severity of the force of impact in motor vehicle accidents. A total of 27 percent of injuries were to the cervical spine. Lumbar spine injuries occurred in 29 percent of cases.

Twenty percent of these injuries resulted in neurological injuries and 14 motorcycle riders sustained permanent and complete damage to the spinal cord with a lack of feeling or movement below the level of the injury. A total of 43 percent of patients had injuries to more than one level of their spinal cord.

Another research study looked at specific patterns of injury to the spinal cord and uncovered the clinical outcomes of patients who suffered spinal injury due to motorcycle accidents. Information was collected on 1,121 motorists who suffered a road accident while on a motorcycle from 1993 to 2000. In this study, about 11.2 percent or 126 motorcycle riders sustained a spinal injury. Of the total, almost 89 percent were male. Only 14 victims of a spinal injury were female.
There was a mean age of victims of 30.2 years with a range of 16 years to 61 years. Isolated inures to the spine occurred 24 percent of the time (in 30 victims. As in the above study, the thoracic spine was injured the most at 55 percent of all isolated spinal injuries. The lumbar spine was the next most common isolated injury at 29 percent. Cervical spine injuries happened at a rate of 27 percent.

Twenty five of the 1,121 motorcycle riders suffered from neurological injury. Of these patients, complete loss of function occurred in 14 riders. Only four riders had complete cervical disruption, while 9 riders had complete thoracic disruption causing paraplegia. One patient had complete neurological damage at the thoracic level. Eleven patients (8.7 percent) needed some kind of spinal surgery to correct their injury and prevent neurological damage. Of the 1,121 patients, a total of 13 died, amounting to 10.3 percent.

The final results indicate that spinal injuries need to be considered when a person enters the emergency room after a motorcycle accident. In particular, thoracic fractures and fractures at multiple levels need to be considered with x-rays of the entire spine done before moving the patient. X-rays or CT scan of the spine needs to be done in any patient exhibiting neurologic symptoms. Emergent surgery should be done in all cases where it is believed that there is instability of the spine that can be corrected, thus correcting any spinal cord injury.

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