Spinal fractures, also known as vertebral fractures or spinal compression fractures, occur when one or more of the bones in your spine (vertebrae) break or collapse. These fractures can be caused by trauma, such as a fall, car accident, or sports injury, or by underlying conditions that weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis or cancer.
Spinal fractures are usually the result of road traffic accidents, falls and sporting activities. The spine can fail anywhere but the mobile segments of the cervical and thoraco-lumbar areas are most vulnerable. Inappropriate treatment can have devastating neurological consequences.
- Trauma: Spinal fractures are most commonly caused by trauma, such as a fall, car accident, or sports injury.
- Osteoporosis: Spinal fractures are most commonly caused by trauma, such as a fall, car accident, or sports injury.
- Cancer: Cancer can weaken the bones and make them more likely to fracture, or it can directly cause spinal fractures by spreading to the spine.
- Other medical conditions: Other medical conditions that can increase the risk of spinal fractures include arthritis, infections, and metabolic disorders.
The symptoms of a spinal fracture can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. Common symptoms include:
- Back pain: Pain at the site of the fracture, which may be mild to severe and worsen with movement or weight-bearing.
- Limited mobility:Difficulty bending or twisting the spine due to pain or instability.
- Nerve compression symptoms: Fractures that result in bone fragments pressing on nerves can cause radiating pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms or legs.
- Kyphosis: In some cases, multiple fractures or a collapse of multiple vertebrae can lead to an exaggerated rounding of the upper back.
If you experience any of these symptoms after a trauma or fall, it is important to see a doctor right away.
To diagnose a spinal fracture, your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask about your medical history. They may also order imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans, to get a better view of your spine.
Treatment for spinal fractures depends on the type and severity of the fracture, as well as your overall health and symptoms. Conservative treatments for stable fractures may include:
- Pain management: Over-the-counter or prescription pain medications to relieve discomfort.
- Bracing: Wearing a back brace to provide support and stabilise the spine during the healing process.
- Rest and limited activity: Avoiding activities that may exacerbate the fracture.
- Physical therapy: To strengthen surrounding muscles and improve flexibility.
For unstable fractures, or those causing significant pain or nerve compression, more aggressive treatments may be required, including:
- Minimally invasive procedures: Vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty, where bone cement is injected into the fractured vertebra to stabilise it and reduce pain.
- Surgery: In certain cases, spinal fusion surgery may be necessary to stabilise the spine, especially when there is spinal instability or neurological complications.
Benefits Of Treatment
Treatment for spinal fractures can help to:
- Relieve pain and improve function.
- Prevent further damage to the spine and nerves.
- Improve quality of life.
Risks Of Treatment
All medical treatments carry some risks. The risks associated with spinal fracture treatments will vary depending on the specific treatment being used. Some potential risks include:
- Nerve damage
- Allergic reaction
- Anaesthesia complications
The recovery time for spinal fractures can vary depending on the type and severity of the fracture, as well as your overall health. For most people, it takes 6-12 weeks for a spinal fracture to heal completely. However, it may take longer for people with osteoporosis or other underlying medical conditions to heal completely.
There are a number of things you can do to help prevent spinal fractures, such as:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of calcium and vitamin D
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding smoking
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Taking precautions to prevent falls
If you have osteoporosis or other medical conditions that increase your risk of spinal fractures, your doctor may recommend additional preventive measures.
Spinal fractures can be serious injuries, but with prompt diagnosis and treatment, most people make a full recovery. If you experience any of the symptoms of a spinal fracture, it is important to make an appointment right away.
Watch real patient stories to learn how London Norwich Spine has helped people with spinal pain regain their strength, flexibility, and mobility.
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Patient:Mr H, aged 23
Condition:Fracture of the thoraco-lumbar spine
Mr Rai's Notes
Mr H had a car accident while driving without wearing a seatbelt. He was thrown 80 yards from the vehicle so was likely to be badly hurt. However, when the ambulance crew arrived, he was able to move his arms and legs and showed no apparent signs of serious spinal injury. Still, the paramedics were careful in transporting him and once at hospital, x-rays showed a severe fracture dislocation. Most people with such an injury are paralysed so it was truly amazing that Mr H had normal function in his legs.
This is a difficult fracture to correct as there is a high risk of causing paralysis during surgical treatment. Mr H was linked to a spinal cord monitoring system throughout the procedure, which allowed us to check his nerves were not damaged during the operation.
The operation was planned in detail by the surgical team. We placed screws above and below the fracture to act as a scaffold before realigning the spine. We then inserted rods and a titanium cage from the front, creating a strong structure for stability and support.
Mr H was able to leave hospital after 2 weeks and recovered very well, so he is almost back to a normal life. He is an extremely lucky man given he suffered such a severe fracture.
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