Spinal Fractures

A spinal fracture can be a frightening diagnosis to receive. Typically painful or incredibly uncomfortable, it is also stressful to withstand the symptoms. Understanding what has happened with the bones of your spine and what can be done to repair it is key to finding the right treatment.

About Spinal Fractures

Your spine is made up of a “stack” of bones called vertebrae. Just like any other bone in your body, your spine, too, is susceptible to breaks or dislocation. The majority of these injuries are the result of falls, auto accidents, sports injuries and even gunshot wounds. Typically, the damaged vertebra will not completely break but will instead dislocate or even create bone fragments. These fragments can pinch or compress the nerves and overall spinal cord in your spinal column.

Some common types of spinal fractures include:

  • Burst Fracture – The vertebral body (main portion of the vertebra in the spine) fragments circumferentially and collapses, usual due to a significant trauma.
  • Compression Fracture – Part of the vertebral in the spine collapses, usually due to osteoporosis, often in the absence of significant trauma.
  • Hangman’s Fracture – A break in the C2 vertebra, a part of the bone in the neck. Requires a significant trauma.
  • Type II Odontoid Fracture – A break that occurs in a small part of the bone called the odontoid process, a small piece of the C2 vertebra that connects it to the C1 vertebra. Often seen in older people, sometimes after a relatively mild trauma.

Common Symptoms of Spinal Fractures

When you have a spinal fracture, the location and severity will often dictate the symptoms you’ll experience. If you are young and healthy, a significant trauma is usually required to produce a spinal fracture and this will be associated with significant neck or back pain. If there is associated nerve compression, you may experience pain or numbness in your arms or legs, difficulty walking, or weakness in your arms or legs.

Thus any trauma followed by significant pain or neurological symptoms requires medical evaluation.  If you are older and/or have significant medical problems that make your bones weaker than they should be, fractures can occur spontaneously or with mild trauma. It important to remember that a spinal fracture can share many of the same symptoms as other spinal injuries. This is why it’s essential to get a diagnosis so you can begin the proper treatment.

Diagnosis of Spinal Fractures

Most spinal fractures are due to trauma of some sort. If it is suspected that you have a fracture, you will be sent for imaging . X-rays, MRIs and CT scans are the most common ways of determining if you have a spinal fracture. These images allow your specialists to assess your injuries and the severity of your fracture.

Treatment Options for Spinal Fractures

In many cases, a conservative treatment approach can be taken. This includes pain medication and anti-inflammatories for any swelling. Additionally, braces may be used to immobilize the area of your back or neck that is affected and allow for the bone to heal.

If the fracture requires surgery, you may be recommended for surgery. This may involve removing the compromised bone in the injured vertebra, using a bone graft to create a “bridge” between the damaged vertebra and intact ones, and/or placement of metal screws and rods to stabilize the area. Sometimes medical “cement” is injected to stabilize the fracture.