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A spine fracture occurs when one of the vertebrae is fractured or dislocated, which leads to bone fragments pinching and damaging the spinal nerves or spinal cord. Spine fracture injuries can range from relatively mild ligament and muscle strains, to fractures and dislocations of the bony vertebrae, to debilitating spinal cord damage. Depending on how bad the injury is, people with spine fracture could experience pain, trouble walking, or paralysis in the arms or legs.
The majority of spine fractures are caused by traumatic injury – with car accidents topping the list of leading causes, followed by falls, sports or gunshot. Diseases such as osteoporosis and spine tumors also contribute to fractures. Symptoms of spinal fracture can vary depending on the severity of the injury and location. They can include:
Symptoms of a spinal fracture 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 is the spinal cord completely severed.
It’s important to know that not all spine fractures cause spinal cord injury. Many fractures heal with conservative treatment; however severe fractures could require surgery to realign the bones.
The first priority in spine fracture treatment is pain management and stabilizing the spine to prevent further injury. Specific spine fracture therapy may include:
Braces and orthotics, which help to maintain spinal alignment, immobilize the spine during the healing process and controlling pain by restricting movement. This is usually only needed for 8 to 12 weeks.
Instrumentation and fusion, which are surgical procedures used for unstable spine fracture. Fusion involves joining two vertebrae with a bone graft, and is held together with plates, rods screws or another connective agent. This ultimately allows the vertebrae to become one solid, fused bone.
Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, which are minimally invasive procedures used to treat compression fractures commonly caused by osteoporosis and spinal tumors. In vertebroplasty, bone cement is injected through a hollow needle into the fractured vertebrae, while in kyphoplasty, a balloon is first inserted and inflated to expand the compressed vertebra before filling the space with bone cement.