Spinal fractures are extremely painful and usually happen when an external force applied to the spine exceeds the vertebral column’s ability to bear the load. Many times, the bone fragments pinch and damage the spinal cord, which leads to an injury or dislocation of the bony vertebra. Although spinal fractures can develop anywhere along the spine, the most common site is the lower back.
What causes spinal fractures?
Spinal fractures can occur due to both minor trauma/falls and major accidents. The following are the probable causes of such fractures-
• Injuries sustained while playing a sport
• A traumatic injury
• Spinal instability
• Injuries sustained after falling from a height
• A whiplash
• Injuries sustained in an accident
• An underlying condition such as Osteoporosis, which causes the spinal bones to weaken
Spinal fractures are characterized by the following symptoms-
• Muscle spasm and swelling
• Acute pain that worsens when you walk or stand for a long time
• A tingling sensation
• Restricted mobility of the spinal column
• Spinal deformity/disability
• Sudden onset of pain in the lower back region
What are the various types of spinal fractures?
Spinal fractures primarily fall into four categories, namely the following-
• Compression - Compression fractures are quite common in people with osteoporosis or bone cancer. The bones become fragile and brittle. If sudden force is applied with extreme pressure, the vertebra may not be able to support the load and that may result in a fracture.
• Burst - Severe trauma, such as a car accident can cause burst fractures. The external pressure is so much that the vertebra gets crushed. As a result, the bony fragments spread out and cause spinal cord injury. Unlike a compression fracture, where only a part of the vertebra is damaged, a burst fracture leads to multiple fractures in the vertebra.
• Flexion-distraction - This type of fracture is likely to happen if you are involved in a car accident. Normally, the spine is made to flex forward. However, a sudden jerk that pushes your body forward can put a lot of pressure on the spine and cause the vertebrae to break.
• Fracture-dislocation - This debilitating condition results from a torn ligament and broken bone.
What is the treatment for spinal fractures?
Treatment options for spinal fractures include both non-surgical and surgical methods.
• Non-surgical treatment - Most cases of spinal fractures can be treated with immobilization in a corset or brace for up to 10-12 weeks. Bracing will help prevent deformity and reduce pain.
• Surgical treatment - The doctor may recommend surgery in severe cases. The two standard surgical procedures are-
Vertebroplasty - The surgeon will insert a tube, known as a catheter, into the compressed vertebra. Through the catheter, he/she will inject bone cement into the fracture site. This will harden and stabilize the vertebral column. Vertebroplasty has proved to be an effective procedure to reduce pain. The surgery restores mobility and prevents loss of bone due to bed rest.
Kyphoplasty - During this procedure, the surgeon inserts a catheter into the spinal column under the guidance of an X-ray. Next, he/she makes small incisions along the back and inserts an inflatable bone stamp. The tamp, once inflated, bring back the vertebral body to its original height. It also creates a cavity to be filled with bone cement, which seals the cracks. The bone cement stops the vertebra from collapsing again. After the whole procedure, the surgeon will remove the catheter and stitch the incisions.
Following surgery, you will need to wear a brace for about 6-12 weeks. Physical therapy is strongly recommended initially to help you get back to your daily activities in a week or two.