Spinal Fractures Explained
A spinal fracture isn’t like a broken arm or leg. A fractured vertebra could produce bone fragments that jut into spinal nerves or do damage to the spinal cord or nerve damage. Most traumatic spinal fractures are caused by traffic accidents, sports injuries, and both high- and low-impact falls.
The bones of the spine have two main sections. A ring-shaped section called vertebral arch, that forms the roof of the spinal canal and protects the spinal cord. You can feel a projection from this arch when you press on the skin in the middle of your back. The other section, vertebral body is the cylindrically shaped portion of the vertebral one that lies in front and provides the majority of structural support.
There are different types of spinal fracture. A minor injury, such as whiplash, can result in a strained muscle or ligament and may need only a little time and rest to heal. But severe spinal fractures can be extremely debilitating, causing pain, disability, and possible damages to the spinal cord that may result in paralysis, and neurological damage.
Vertebral compression fractures are a common cause of back pain in older adults. A vertebral fracture occurs when the normal vertebral body of the spine is squished, or compressed, to a smaller height. As we age, we lose some of bone density and strength, becoming more brittle, and putting us at risk of injury. Missing a step, lifting a heavy box, or even coughing or sneezing could cause compression fractures of the spine in severe cases.
These “hairline” fractures can compound over time, weakening the vertebra and causing a collapse. When this happens, the spine compresses, and you may lose some inches off your height. These fractures more commonly occur in the thoracic spine (the middle portion of the spine), especially in the lower part. The vertebra may breakdown into a wedge shape, giving you a stooped posture known as Dowager’s hump.
Spinal Fracture Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of a fractured spine will vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. Some common symptoms include:
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Tingling sensations
- Muscle spasms
- Inability to control bowels or bladder
- Paralysis of the arms or legs
Symptoms of a vertebral compression fracture include:
- Curvature of the spine (kyphosis).
- Loss of height.
Lingering Compression Fracture Pain
Compression fractures of the spine pain varies from person to person. Typically it takes about 2-3 months for the fracture to heal. In some cases, the pain slowly decreases until it’s gone. In other cases, the pain from compression fractures may linges even after the bones have mended.
Multiple Spinal Fractures
Do not ignore back pain. Spinal fractures are serious injuries, and one fracture can weaken the bones, creating the perfect conditions for more fractures in the future.
IIf you have multiple fractures, back pain may become the least of your worries. Spinal compression and kyphosis change your body mechanics and disrupt other crucial physiological systems. You may experience digestive or breathing problems as your spine compresses your stomach and lungs. If your ribcage reaches your hip bones, you may have hip pain as well.
Treatment for Spinal Fracture
At Nuvo Spine, we use non-invasive measures as a first-line approach. Accurate diagnosis with a complete medical history review and physical examination is important to determine the course of treatment action. You might need a CT, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or X-ray scan to determine the extent of your spinal fracture.
The majority of compression fractures heal with pain medication, reduction in activity, bed rest, medications to stabilize bone density, and a good back brace to minimize motion during the healing process.
Depending on your injury, your individualized treatment plan may include a combination of the following:
- Back bracing – Aligns the vertebrae and immobilizes the spine to control pain during the 8-12 week recovery period.
- Spinal compression fracture physical therapy.
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Medication – Oral or epidural injection may be recommended.
- Activity reduction or modification.
- Bone-strengthening medication.
- Nutritional supplements.
If your symptoms won’t respond to conservative treatment, then we can pursue more advanced interventions, such as Kyphoplasty and Vertebroplasty.
- Kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive procedure. A tube with a deflated balloon is slipped inside the broken bone, in this case, fractured vertebra. Once inside, the balloon is inflated to help restore the height of the fractured vertebra. Then bone cement is injected into the space formed by the balloon to hold the vertebra at its corrected height.
- Vertebroplasty is another minimally invasive procedure in which special cement is injected into the broken vertebral body. This particular treatment is mainly used to ease pain and improve the strength of the vertebral body.
At Nuvo Spine, we specialize in these high-quality, minimally-invasive techniques. They can stabilize the spine, prevent further damage, and provide rapid pain relief. Contact our offices today, and learn how you can return to a pain-free life.