As a prelude to continuing surveillance in Hawaii, a 2-year retrospective study (1987-1989) was conducted by the Pacific Basin Rehabilitation Research & Training Center (PBRRTC) and the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific (REHAB) in order to examine the frequency and causes of traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) at REHAB; determine similarities and differences when compared to national statistics and make recommendations for future study. Data were abstracted from patient records at REHAB. During the period of study, 59 persons were treated for SCI. Similar to the national database, 85% were males and 70% were teenagers and young adults. Motor Vehicle Accidents (MVAs) contributed to 38% of the injuries followed by falls (28%), sports (19%) and violence (16%); however, etiology differed according to age. Sixty-two percent of the lesions were cervical. Almost 50% were neurologically complete. Sixty-six percent were in wheelchairs. Over 50% were independent in mobility and feeding and nearly 40% were independent in bathing and dressing. Eighty-eight percent returned to their homes. In general, the case at REHAB did not differ from the national database. Because reporting has not been mandatory, actual SCI incidence in Hawaii is most likely higher. Information derived from a mandatory reporting system would lead to identification of high risk groups, development and evaluation of prevention programs, identification of patients requiring early intervention and rehabilitation, and better planning of health care services.