There are numerous causes and reasons for spine injury, but motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause, accounting for more than 40 percent of new spinal cord injuries each year.1
Cervical spine injuries (injuries involving the neck) usually result from a violent collision that compresses the cervical spine against the shoulders. This frequently occurs in motor vehicle accidents when the head is violently jerked backwards or forwards, which causes neck sprain, or whiplash.
In addition to vehicle accidents, Christopher C. J Kleck, an orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor of orthopedics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, cites sports as the third highest cause of cervical spine injuries. Extreme sports, such as mountain biking and skiing, pose an even more significant risk to athletes:
“Specifically looking at mountain biking, about 74% of injuries occur in the cervical spine and 82% of these were in the lower cervical spine, from C3 to C7,” said Kleck. “Looking at the rates of spine injuries in skiing athletes, [a study] saw cervical spine injuries in 41%, and the spinal cord injury rate was about 1%.”2
For that one percent, and for some of the 200,000 people currently living with a spinal cord injury (SCI) in the US, the FDA has recently approved a first-of-its-kind set of robotic legs that can help those individuals walk again.3
The ReWalk system is a bionic suit that functions as an exoskeleton and was designed to help those with certain spinal cord injuries to regain mobility. The user wears a motorized brace, which is controlled with motion sensors. These sensors and motorized joints respond to subtle changes in upper-body movement and shifts in balance. A harness around the waist and shoulders keeps the suit stable, and a backpack houses the rechargeable battery and computer that allows ReWalk to function. Crutches are also used for stability of movement.
While the price of the ReWalk is certainly not cheap (it costs roughly $69,500), the company who makes the system is attempting to come to an agreement with insurance companies to ensure that individuals who are eligible are able to purchase it. The system was invented in 1997 by Amit Goffer, an Israeli who became paralyzed following an ATV accident.4 Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Spinal cord injury causes. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/spinal-cord-injury/basics/causes/con-20023837  Kleck, C. (2014, June 13-14). Spine injuries in the extreme sports athlete. International Extreme Sports Medicine Annual Congress. Lecture conducted from Boulder, CO. Retrieved from http://www.healio.com/spine-surgery/cervical/news/online/%7B35d12943-a5c6-4b10-b89a-6cb29729c2fc%7D/skiing-mountain-biking-have-high-risk-for-acute-spine-injury  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010, November 4). Spinal cord injury (SCI): Fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/scifacts.html  Knibbs, K. (2014, June 27). ReWalk bionic suits can finally be sold in the US. Gizmodo. Retrieved from http://gizmodo.com/rewalk-bionic-suits-can-finally-be-sold-in-the-us-1596933180