What is spinal fracture?
A spinal fracture is when you break a bone in your spine – that’s the basic definition. Your spinal column is made up of vertebra stacked one on top of each other. The vertebrae – the bones in your spine – can break, just like other bones in your body. However, spinal fractures can be more severe than breaking other bones in your body because a spinal fracture can cause trauma to the spinal cord.
How common is spinal fracture?
Spinal fracture can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of spinal fracture?
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.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes spinal fracture?
Spinal fractures are caused by trauma or by conditions that weaken the bones.
- Car accidents
- Violent acts (e.g., being shot)
A traumatic event can put too much pressure on the spine, and the vertebrae can break because they can’t withstand the force. The trauma can cause your body to move in extreme ways, placing an extreme force on your spine. For example, a diving accident can cause the neck to bend back too far, fracturing the vertebrae as they try to withstand the extreme, unusual pressure.
It’s possible for a traumatic event to crack the hard outside part of the vertebral body – the cortical bone. If it cracks, it’s possible for the vertebra to continue to collapse, even under normal weight. So, the initial traumatic event may not cause the bone to collapse all that much, but over time, the fracture may become worse.
Conditions that weaken the bones:
- Bone cancer
- Spinal tumors
If your bones have been weakened by a condition such as osteoporosis, you’re more at risk for spinal fractures. With weak bones, even a simple movement like picking up a bag of groceries can cause a fracture.
What increases my risk for spinal fracture?
Having one spinal fracture significantly increases your chances of having another. Over time, multiple fractures can disrupt the alignment of your spine, causing it to tilt forward (dowager’s hump).
This forward curvature can become so pronounced that your balance is affected and your chest cavity compressed, making it difficult to breathe, eat or sleep properly. Other risk factors include your age, gender, and lifestyle.
Diagnosis & Treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is spinal fracture diagnosed?
The doctor will probably start with a physical examination. He or she will ask you questions about the pain (if you have any) and review details of the trauma (e.g., car accident) with you. You’ll also discuss if you have any other symptoms that could be related to nerve damage. Most likely, the doctor will feel your spine and have you move in various ways. This is to test your range of motion – how well you can move – and he or she will note if any particular movements cause, increase, or decrease pain.
If the doctor suspects that you have nerve damage, he or she will probably do a neurological exam. During the neurological exam, your spine specialist will test your reflexes, muscle strength, other nerve changes, and pain spread.
The best way to confirm that you have a spinal fracture is by having imaging tests. You may have the following tests done:
- X-ray: An x-ray clearly shows your bones and if you have any fractures.
- CT scan: This test shows bones in addition to the soft tissues, such as nerves. If the doctor thinks you might have neurological issues, you may need to have a CT scan to see what’s pressing on the nerve and spinal cord. Another benefit of a CT scan is that it’s possible to look at cross-sections of the spine. Also, the doctor can see the spine from more than one angle by using different views of the CT scan.
- MRI scan: An MRI shows soft tissues like discs and nerves. On an MRI, the doctor will also be able to see any intervertebral disc problems.
Using these tests, the doctor should be able to tell what type of fracture you have and how severe it is. With that information, the doctor will be able to develop a treatment plan for you.
How is spinal fracture treated?
Typically, the first line of treatment for vertebral compression fractures is conservative therapy (non-surgical), which includes pain medication, calcium and vitamin D supplements, rest (but only for a short time period, as prolonged inactivity can lead to further bone loss), and external bracing.
Pain from a spinal fracture can last for several months while healing, but if it heals well with conservative treatment, the pain will usually improve significantly within a few days or weeks.
When pain from a compression fracture persists, surgery may be considered to repair the fracture. The two commonly used procedures for spine fractures from osteoporosis are vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, but in rare instances, where the patient has significant loss of vertebral height, spine fusion surgery may be appropriate.
- Vertebroplasty: The goals of the vertebroplasty surgical procedure are to stabilize the spinal fracture and to stop the pain caused by the fracture.
- Kyphoplasty: The goals of a kyphoplasty surgical procedure are designed to stop the pain caused by a spinal fracture, to stabilize the bone, and to restore some or all of the lost vertebral body height due to the compression fracture.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage spinal fracture?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with spinal fracture:
- Take foods rich in vitamin D, calcium and proteins and take supplements if necessary as it is a great lifestyle change for vertebral fractures. Also spend some time in the sun for the vitamin D.
- Visit your doctor for osteoporosis treatment options. It also important to seek medical advice in case of early menopause.
- Do exercises like walking, running, playing tennis among other sports. This is a lifestyle change which can help in the long term in strengthening the bones.
- Be safe around your home by eliminating obstacles that could result in falls. Also drive carefully to reduce the risk of car accidents.
- Improve your balance by doing weight lifting with your arms and legs which will also increase your strength.
- Quit smoking.
- Reduce your alcohol intake or quite altogether.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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Spinal Fractures Center. https://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/spinal-fractures. Accessed Mar 2, 2017.
Spinal Fracture Surgery. http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/back-surgery/spinal-fracture-surgery. Accessed Mar 2, 2017.
Vertebral Fracture: Treatment, Surgery, Recovery, Rehab, Prevention, Coping. https://www.epainassist.com/back-pain/vertebral-fracture-treatment-surgery-recovery-rehab-prevention-coping. Accessed Mar 2, 2017.
Review Date: April 14, 2017 | Last Modified: April 14, 2017