Neurological conditions /

Brain and spinal cord injury

Better emergency care means that many more people now survive brain and spinal cord injuries. This has given rise to a large population of people living with the effects of these injuries. We have highlighted acquired brain and spinal cord injury as an area in need of increased research investment in order to help people make the best recovery from these injuries.

What is an 'acquired' injury? 

The term 'acquired' injury encompasses both traumatic injuries (associated with accidents, assaults and falls) and non-traumatic injuries (including stroke, brain and spinal cord tumours and poisoning) . Acquired injuries are distinct from congenital conditions that arise before birth or neurodegenerative conditions that cause gradual damage to the brain.

Who is affected? 

More than 350,000 people are admitted to hospital every year in the UK with an acquired brain injury. This includes 158,000 with a traumatic brain injury and 137,000 with stroke.  

There are around 2,500 new spinal cord injuries every year in the UK.

The impact

The number of deaths from brain and spinal cord injury is going down - thanks to better emergency care and, in the case of stroke, better awareness of symptoms, and availability of new clot-busting drugs. But this means that the population of survivors is growing ever bigger.

Estimates of the numbers of people in the UK living with long-term problems as a result of acquired brain or spinal cord injury include: 

- 1.3 million stroke survivors

- 1.3 million living with the effects of a traumatic brain injury

- 100,000 children and adults living with brain tumours

- 50,000 survivors of spinal cord injury

The day-to-day impact of an injury varies enormously from person to person, depending on the nature, severity, and location of the injury, as well as the treatment and rehabilitation undertaken.

The range of problems is huge and includes impaired movement, cognitive impairment, communication difficulties, emotional issues, fatigue, headaches and pain.

Appropriate rehabilitation plays a vital role in determining the level of recovery. For many people with severe brain injuries, long-term rehabilitation is necessary to maximise function and independence. Rehabilitation does not repair the injury but rather it aims to help the brain to learn alternative ways of working in order to minimise the impact of the injury.

Almost all survivors of severe brain or spinal cord injuries are left with permanent problems, and very few return to a semblance of normal life.

How we help

Acquired brain and spinal cord injury is one of Brain Research UK's three priority research areas. This means that we have identified a large unmet need in this area, coupled with a lack of research investment from other sources.

We want to improve the outlook for those affected by brain or spinal cord injury by funding research to advance understanding of how to promote repair of the brain and spinal cord.

We have awarded the following grants for research under this theme: