Spinal injuries can range from relatively mild ligament and muscle strains (such as whiplash), to fractures and dislocations of the bony vertebrae (vertebrae fractures), to debilitating spinal cord injuries. Spinal fractures and dislocations can pinch, compress, and even tear the spinal cord. Treatment of spinal fractures depends on the type of fracture and the degree of instability.
Fractures can occur anywhere along the spine. Five to ten percent occur in the neck (cervical fractures) region. Sixty four percent occur in the lower back (lumbar fractures) region.
There are numerous classifications for fractures. In general, spine fractures fall into three categories:
A compression fracture occurs when the normal vertebral body of the spine is squished, or compressed, to a smaller height. This injury tends to happen in two groups of people. First, are patients who are involved in traumatic accidents. When a load placed on the vertebrae exceeds its stability, it may collapse. This is commonly seen after a fall. The second, and much more common, groups of patients are those with osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes a thinning of the bone. As the bone thins out, it is less able to support a load. Therefore patients with osteoporosis may develop compression fractures without severe injuries, even in their daily activities.
Spinal fractures signs and symptoms vary depending on the severity and location of the injury. They include back or neck pain, numbness, tingling, muscle spasm, weakness, bowel/bladder changes, and paralysis. Paralysis is a loss of movement in the arms or legs and may indicate a spinal cord injury. Not all fractures cause spinal cord injury and rarely are the spinal cord completely severed.
Car accidents (45%), falls (20%), sports (15%), acts of violence (15%), and miscellaneous activities (5%) are the primary causes of fractures of the spine. Diseases such as osteoporosis and spine tumors also contribute to fractures.
80% of patients are aged 18-25 years. Men are 4 times more likely to have a traumatic spinal fracture than women.
Spinal fractures treatment begins with pain management and stabilization to prevent further injury. Other body injuries (e.g., to the chest) may be present and need treatment as well. Depending on the type of fracture and its stability, bracing and/or surgery may be necessary.
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