Spinal Problems Injuries Fracture

Spinal fractures can be more dangerous than other bone fractures because of the risk of spinal cord injury. Although spinal cord separation can occur in extreme cases, the greater risk is of a broken bone causing spinal compression.

According to the Mayfield Neurological Clinic in Cincinnati, Ohio, men are four times more likely to experience traumatic spinal fractures than women, and most cases occur between the ages of 18 and 25. The main causes of spinal fractures are:

  • Car accidents
  • Falls
  • Sports
  • Violent acts.

Diseases such as osteoporosis and spine tumors may also contribute to spinal fractures.

Types of Spinal Fractures

The five most common types of spinal fracture include:

  • Burst spinal fractures, which occur when an entire vertebra is evenly crushed. This type of fracture often pushes bone fragments into the spinal cord, and may cause loss of feeling and movement. Burst spinal fractures most often occur where the thoracic and lumbar spines meet.
  • Flexion/distraction spinal fractures, which occur when a vertebra is pulled apart. This spinal injury can occur in situations such as a head-on car crash, where the upper body is thrown forward while a lap seat belt holds the pelvis in place.
  • Fracture-dislocations lead to unstable spinal injury involving bone and soft tissue in which a vertebra may become displaced in relation to an adjacent vertebra. This spinal injury frequently causes serious spinal compression, causing a spinal cord fracture.
  • Spinal compression fractures (also called “wedge fractures”) occur when the spine is bent forward or sideways at the moment of trauma. The front of the vertebra breaks and loses height, but the back part of the vertebra does not. This type of spinal injury is usually stable and rarely associated with neurological problems. Spinal compression fractures commonly occur in the thoracic spine because of its natural curve.
  • Transverse process fractures are a relatively uncommon type of spinal injury. These spinal fractures result from rotation or extreme sideways bending, and don’t usually affect spinal stability.

Treatment for Spinal Fractures

A spinal fracture’s treatment depends on the type of spinal injury, whether a spinal cord fracture has occurred and other injuries that are present:

  • Compression and burst spinal fractures are usually treated with a back brace for six to 12 weeks, followed by rehabilitation exercises and gradually increased physical activity. Burst spinal fractures that are unstable may require surgery.
  • For flexion/distraction spinal fractures that occur only through the vertebral body, treatment usually involves a brace or cast for 12 weeks. However, surgery may be necessary in the case of injured spinal ligaments, or if the fracture penetrates the spinal discs.
  • Fracture-dislocations often require surgery to stabilize the spine.
  • Transverse process fractures are mostly treated by gradually increasing movement, with or without bracing.

Resources

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Staff (n.d.). Fractures of the thoracic and lumbar spine. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00368

Mayfield Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Spinal fractures. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from http://www.mayfieldclinic.com/PE-SpineFract.HTM

MD Guidelines Staff (n.d.). Fracture, thoracic spine (without spinal cord injury). Retrieved March 19, 2010, from http://www.mdguidelines.com/fracture-thoracic-spine-without-spinal-cord-injury