A spinal fracture can occur after traumatic or even minor incidents or falls. The majority of spinal fractures will not require surgery, but severe fractures that are not treated can cause long-term problems. Spinal fractures are classified into two types: compression fractures and burst fractures.
Compression fractures tend to occur after minor trauma in patients with osteoporosis, due to the decreased bone density of the vertebrae. When compression fractures occur, they can cause the vertebrae to collapse. This is what causes the loss of height in osteoporotic patients over time.
Burst fractures are more severe than compression fractures. They tend to occur after traumatic incidents such as car accidents or falls from height. In this type of fracture, the vertebrae breaks due to a high-energy load. Shards of vertebral bone spread out in all directions, and pose a risk of damaging the spinal cord. This can lead to paralysis or nerve injury.
When it comes to compression fractures, severity will affect symptomatology. If the compression fracture is mild, you will experience mild pain and minimal deformity. A severe compression may affect the spinal cord or nerve roots, in which case you will experience severe pain and appear hunched forward.
In the case of a burst fracture, you will experience moderate to severe back pain that worsens when moving. You may have numbness, tingling, and weakness. If the spinal cord is involved, you will experience an inability to empty the bowel or bladder properly (incontinence).
Your doctor will ask you a variety of questions to obtain a detailed family and personal medical history. They will also have you explain how the injury happened. A physical exam will check for swelling, bruising, and injury to the head, chest, stomach, and back. The exam will also assess the strength of the limbs. Your doctor will order one or more imaging tests, including X-Rays, CT scans, and MRIs.
Treatment depends on the type of spinal fracture endured and its severity. Mild fractures rarely require surgery. They are often treated with immobilization in a brace for up to 12 weeks. This helps to reduce pain and prevent deformity (hunching). However, in the case of burst fractures, if the spinal cord or nerve roots are affected, surgery will be recommended.
Surgical Treatments of Spinal Fractures:
In the case of severe burst fractures, your surgeon can perform a spinal fusion to stabilize the spine with grafts and other instruments. This will take the pressure off the vertebrae and nerves.
In severe compression fractures, your surgeon can perform a vertebroplasty. In this procedure, a catheter is inserted into the compressed vertebra and bone cement is inserted. This hardens and stabilizes the vertebral column to reduce pain and prevent bone loss.\
Stabilization is a procedure that involves removing broken vertebra and replacing them with a plate, screws, or spinal cage material.
For a comprehensive evaluation from the experts at Brain2Spine Institute, call 727-828-8400.