During deer hunting season, hunters are at risk for spinal cord injuries after falling from deer stands

Deer hunting is popular across the United States. Many recreational hunters use tree stands to gain a better vantage point in wooded areas. Unfortunately, trauma centers see an increase in spinal cord injury (SCI) during deer hunting season due to falls from tree stands, which are typically elevated 10-30 feet above the ground. SCI after a fall from this height can cause serious injury and may be fatal.

To better understand SCI among recreational hunters, a group of researchers in Wisconsin evaluated 117 individuals who fell from tree stands while deer hunting. After collecting patient data about injury severity, type, treatment and outcomes, researchers determined that:

  • More than half of individuals who fell from tree stands experienced SCI, and most of these patients experienced multiple fractures from a single falling incident.
  • Twenty-five patients required surgical interventions as a result of SCI, and nineteen patients experienced loss of neurological function (including weakness, numbness, and paralysis).
  • Two individuals who fell from tree stands died as a result of their injuries.

Although most incidents of SCI do not require surgical treatment, spinal injuries carry serious risk for persistent negative outcomes, which can be as severe as paralysis or death. Hunters are advised to follow safety protocols by wearing harnesses and using tree stands with care. Because falls from lower height are less likely to cause SCI, clinicians recommend that hunters use tree stands that are no more than ten feet tall. SCI can cause irreversible injuries and deficits, and the best treatment is prevention.

Hamilton K, Rocque B, & Brooks N. Spine and spinal cord injuries after falls from tree stands during the Wisconsin deer hunting season. Original Research. (November 2017).

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