What are Spinal Fractures?
Spinal fractures occur when the vertebral vertebrae break or become dislocated. Weakening the spine can also pinch or damage the spinal cord or the nerves going to and from your body. The most common causes of spinal fractures are motor vehicle accidents, falls and sports. There is a wide range of injuries that lead from ligament sprains and dislocations to vertebral crush and dislocations which can damage the spinal cord. Symptoms can range from pain, to nerve numbness, to muscle weakness, to paralysis. Men are 4 times more likely to have a spinal fracture than women. Many spinal fractures heal with conservative treatment with more severe injuries requiring surgery to help the bones heal properly.
Many times the onset of the symptoms coincides with the trauma of a spinal fracture. There are also times when the symptoms may be delayed or progressive over time. Pain at the site of fracture is the most common symptom which can be chronic, debilitating, sharp or dull. Regardless of the cause, the most common symptoms include neck or back pain and stiffness, numbness or tingling in the arms and neck and legs, weakness of the arms and legs, a burning sensation in the arms and legs, or trouble with walking or hand coordination. If severe damage or transection of the spinal cord has happened then paralysis may occur.
Even falls that don’t seem so bad can fracture the spine. The spinal bones fracture when the force outside of the bone overcomes the bone’s strength. The main causes of spinal fractures are car accidents, falls, violence and sports. Younger males account for the majority of spinal fractures at 80%. Compression fractures involve the spinal vertebrae being flattened. A severe spinal injury may result in fracture dislocation of the spine in which the vertebrae are moved apart from each other which can cause paralysis.
Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones with aging that can predispose you to bone fractures. The spine may not have enough strength to support itself and the vertebrae may become crushed. Women are far more likely than men to develop osteoporosis.
Diagnosis of spinal fractures includes is frequently indicated by the recent trauma. This may be present immediately after your trauma or may progress over a period of months or years. You may need to wear a neck brace until a doctor has evaluated your cervical spine to prevent further injury. If spinal injury is suspected, your doctor will obtain an evaluation from a neurosurgeon. Diagnosis involves a combination of the patient’s history, examination and testing which may include:
- A complete physical and neurological exam which includes evaluation of loss of sensation, weakness and decreased or absent reflexes. A neurological deficit could help locate the area of cervical spinal compression. Palpation of the neck and spine may indicate which vertebrae are injured.
Imaging tests may include X-rays which use radiation to look at the bony anatomy of your cervical spine and may be a first test used. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses powerful magnets to evaluate the structure of the spinal cord and spinal verves. Computed tomography (CT) scans use X-rays and are excellent for evaluating bony anatomy or acute bleeding of the spinal cord.
Proper diagnosis is paramount for spinal fractures. Your care will depend on the severity and cause of your symptoms. Many spinal fractures can heal on their own with conservative treatment. Conservative treatments include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to decrease pain and swelling. Heat or cold like an ice bag, heating pad, or hot shower can help reduce pain. A cervical collar or back brace for up to 3 months might be used to support your spinal cord while limiting movement.
An additional surgery may be indicated in where there is a more severe fracture where nerves are crushed or there is severe pain. Spinal fusion involves connecting two of more of the spinal vertebrae so that they are permanently attached together using bone grafts with plastic or metal screws and rods. This permanently fuses the spine vertebrae in the attached segments and will allow the fractured spine to heal. This requires general anesthesia and a short hospital stay.
Vertebroplasty involves injecting bone cement into the broken spinal body to allow it to heal. Kyphoplasty is similar but uses a balloon to lift up the compressed spinal vertebra before the bone cement is injected. These are both minimally invasive procedures that are appropriate for some spinal compression fractures.
Severe spinal fractures require urgent care and you should call 911. The best way to manage your spinal fracture is to educate yourself as much as you can regarding your condition, and to become involved in your own care and treatment with your healthcare providers.
The neurosurgeons of Norelle Health are highly trained and skilled in the diagnosis, management, and treatment of spinal fractures. Our neurosurgeons can provide the optimal treatment. Neurosurgery is considered essential by insurances and should be covered with your plan. As out-of-network providers, we will check your benefits for you and let you know what they are so there are no surprises. We use an individualized treatment plan for your concerns to provide a personalized holistic plan of care. If you would like assistance, please feel free to contact us (link to contact page) or call our office (link to phone number).