Spinal Cord Injury In Children: Unique Biomechanics Require Specialized Legal Knowledge

Acute spinal cord injury (SCI) is a common cause of permanent disability and death in children and adults. 44% of SCIs are caused by car accidents. Nearly 10 percent of new SCIs in the United States occur in children ages 1 to 15. In children under 8 years of age, spinal cord injuries are most often located in the cervical spine (the neck).

Children are not just miniature adults. Their anatomy and biomechanics are unique. This is nowhere more true than in the cervical spine.

Some of the differences between adult and child anatomy can be seen in the following illustration:


Children have a disproportionately larger head, underdeveloped neck muscles, and a much more flexible spinal column. Yet the increased flexibility of a child’s spinal column (when compared to an adult) does not proportionately apply to their spinal cord. A child’s spinal column has up to 2 inches of “play”, while the spinal cord has more like a mere quarter inch.

This unique anatomical feature in children means that in a motor vehicle accident the spinal column may flex in one or more directions that exceeds the flexibility of the child’s spinal cord. This can cause grave injury.

Because of these anatomical differences, a child’s neck is likely to be more injured than an adult’s when the same forces are applied. Some of the most common injuries to the spine in children are: facet dislocations, posterior ligament injuries, and wedge compression fractures.

So how does the unique spinal anatomy of children affect your injury claim? It’s all about biomechanics. Biomechanics, in the legal arena, refers to the proof of the mechanism of injury (what factors, what forces, what objects caused the injury and how?) It is imperative that your attorney have an understanding of both the unique anatomy and biomechanics that affect your child’s injury claim.

Without this specialized understanding, your child’s claim will suffer. This is such important knowledge because many insurance companies deny or seek to minimize the impact of an injury on a young child. They argue that the children are more resilient than adults and can be expected to “bounce back” more quickly. They deny the unique vulnerability of the child’s body to injury. Your attorney must have the specialized knowledge to disabuse the insurer of those misconceptions. 

Children are not just miniature adults. Their spines differ considerably from adults. Children are susceptible to a different spectrum of injuries, some of which can be devastating because they occur most often in the upper cervical spine.

Please call me or another qualified child injury attorney if you need help with your child’s injury claim.


National Spinal Cord Injury Association / Pediatric Spine – Not Just Smaller – Different / Injury Mechanisms in the Pediatric Cervical Spine During Out-of-Position Airbag Deployments


Attorney Pete Pearson practices personal injury law in Atlanta, Georgia and has a special interest in helping families of injured children. He is a father to six and lives with his wife and children in Conyers, Georgia. He can be reached directly at Six-Seven-Eight 358-2564. 

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