Spinal Fracture

A spinal fracture from a fall, injury or accident can happen in seconds, but the impact can last for years. When your quality of life is potentially on the line, you deserve the best team, committed to help you find a lasting recovery from spinal fracture. For Orange County's best technology and techniques for treating serious or potentially debilitating conditions of the neck and spine, you need Hoag. At Hoag Spine Institute, we have what it takes to help you heal, with a whole-patient approach and personalized treatment plans that care for both body and mind. So don't wait. With Hoag, you can find your best path to recovery after a spinal fracture.

Need Spinal Fracture Treatment? Orange County Runs on Hoag.

At the Hoag Spine Institute, our mission is to offer unparalleled care for spinal conditions, including the complex challenges of spinal fractures. Our dedicated team employs the latest advancements in spinal health to ensure that each patient receives the most effective care, guided by a commitment to advanced technology, accurate diagnoses and innovative treatment options for our patients.

Creating a patient-friendly environment is central to our philosophy. We understand that dealing with spinal conditions can be a daunting experience, which is why we strive to make your journey to recovery as comfortable and supportive as possible. From the moment you step through our doors, you’ll find a nurturing atmosphere and comprehensive support services at every step of your treatment process.

At Hoag Spine Institute, we’re not just about providing treatments; we’re about restoring your quality of life. Read on for what you need to know about spinal fractures, including key definitions, causes and what you can do to lower your risk.

Trust the Hoag Spine Institute to help you return to the activities you love with confidence. Contact us today at 949-764-1411 or through our online form.

What is a Spinal Fracture?

A spinal fracture is a break or crack in one of the vertebrae that make up the spinal column.

In younger people, spinal fractures occur most often as a result of high-energy trauma caused by a fall, automobile accident, sports injury or even issues like physical assaults or gunshot wounds.

Extreme trauma can cause especially severe fractures of the vertebrae, known as burst fractures. In extreme cases, these fractures can cause a broken spinal vertebra to shatter in multiple directions. Usually occurring due to violent impacts from car accidents or high falls onto hard surfaces, a burst fracture can scatter shrapnel-like bone fragments into surrounding tissues, including the spinal cord and nerve roots. That’s why experiencing a burst fracture increases the risk of the spinal cord completely severed, potentially resulting in paralysis.

Spinal fractures can also happen as the result of having weakened bones due to osteoporosis, a disease involving bone-density loss that usually occurs in older people. Osteoporosis can reduce the density of bones, which can make them weaker and more likely to break.

When osteoporosis affects the spine, the result can be what are called vertebral compression fractures. In severe cases of osteoporosis, spinal fractures can occur even during minor falls or ordinary movements, like bending down to pick up a moderately heavy object.

Spinal fractures are more than just injuries to the bone; they can have a profound impact on a person’s overall health and mobility. The potential for paralysis or other neurological or mobility issues makes these injuries particularly serious.

Recovery may involve a minimally-invasive procedure or more significant surgical interventions in the case of unstable fractures, often followed by physical therapy and rehabilitation to restore function and mobility as much as possible.

That said, minor spinal fractures, treated properly, may not adversely impact a patient’s quality of life or lead to debilitating consequences, as effective treatment options are readily available.

What Can Cause a Spinal Fracture?

In order to fully understand spinal fractures, knowing a little about the anatomy of the spine can be helpful. The human spine, also known as the backbone, is a bony column made up of 33 small bones known as the vertebrae.

Some of these vertebrae — specifically those in the tailbone (coccyx) and that form part of the pelvis (the sacrum) — normally fuse together before birth. The non-fused vertebrae of the spine are separated by soft, cushioning pads called spinal discs, but are kept flexibly connected by a series of structures known as the facet joints.

Each vertebra is made up of two components: the vertebral body and the vertebral arch. Running through the middle of the spinal column is a hollow, tunnel-like space known as the spinal canal, which contains and protects the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a bundle of spinal nerves and tissues that allow the brain to communicate with the rest of the body.

When more strain is placed on a vertebrae than it can withstand, it can experience a break, or fracture. The primary cause behind most spinal fractures is high energy trauma, which involves the body being subjected to dangerous amounts of kinetic energy from an outside source.

Common traumatic causes of spine fractures can include:

  • Falling from a height of more than ten feet, especially if a person falls onto a hard surface.
  • Gunshot wounds.
  • Car accidents at speeds greater than 45 miles per hour, especially if a patient is ejected from the vehicle.
  • Motorcycle accidents.
  • Sports injuries, especially in full-contact sports like American football, wrestling or rugby.

Certain other conditions can also result in a spinal fracture, often due to progressive weakening of the spinal column over time. These include:

  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease that progressively weakens the strength and density of the bones. This can increase the fragility of a patient’s spine, potentially causing spinal fractures even during ordinary movements or minor falls.
  • Spinal tumors and cancer: Spinal tumors are abnormal growths that can affect the vertebrae of the spine. In some cases, spinal tumors and certain types of bone cancer can damage the vertebrae, increasing the risk of a spinal fracture.
  • Spinal infections: Hostile organisms in the body, such as bacteria or viruses, can sometimes attack the bones of the spine, potentially weakening the vertebrae and leaving them more susceptible to a fracture.

What are the Different Types of Spinal Fractures?

Spinal fractures are broken up into three distinct categories, which are classified based on the pattern of the spinal fracture and whether or not there was spinal cord damage. The three major types of spine fractures are compression fractures, axial burst fractures, and chance fractures, though miscellaneous fractures do exist.

Compression Fracture

Vertebral compression fractures occur when the front (anterior) of the affected vertebra breaks while the back (posterior) part does not. These are comparatively minor fractures, owing to the fact that they are usually stable. Stable fractures mean that the vertebrae have not moved out of place, and as such are rarely associated with neurological problems or a spinal cord injury.

A compression fracture is typically caused by degenerative bone conditions like osteoporosis, or by abnormal growths within the spine, such as tumors. Learn more about osteoporosis from Hoag.

Axial Burst Fracture

An axial burst fracture occurs when both the anterior and posterior sides of the vertebra break. Axial burst fractures typically occur when a patient lands on their feet after falling from a significant height, traumatically compressing the spine and resulting in unstable burst fractures in one or more of the vertebrae.

An unstable fracture is distinct from a stable fracture in that it damages a patient’s spinal alignment, squeezing a vertebrae out of place.

Chance Fractures

Chance fractures occur when a vertebrae is violently pulled apart by a traumatic forward-flexed injury. Chance fractures are often cervical fractures, meaning that they occur within the neck region. Chance fractures often occur due to a car accident, especially in cases where a patient was hit by another vehicle from behind.

Miscellaneous Fractures

There are a number of other types of spinal fractures which can occur. These include:

Hangman’s Fractures

Hangman’s fractures occur in the upper part of the neck, just below the head, and are often caused by the head being forcibly snapped back and up. This hyperextension of the neck usually occurs in car accidents, diving accidents, and injuries in contact-sports.

Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis

These are stress fractures that occur in the lower part of the spine. Spondylolysis is a crack in the pars interarticularis, a small bone that helps to connect the vertebrae. Spondylolisthesis is when one vertebra becomes unstable and slips forward on another which may result in a fracture. Learn more about spondylolisthesis from Hoag.

What are the Symptoms of a Spinal Fracture?

Common symptoms include:

  • Back pain: An acute, sharp pain in the back, especially when a patient attempts to move out of a static position. Swelling and tenderness in the muscles surrounding the spinal fracture site may also occur.
  • Tingling or numbness: This feeling of icy numbness, sometimes with the pricking sensation of pins or needles, can occur within the spine. If the spinal fracture caused a compression of the spine or nerve root, this can also result in numbness in the extremities.
  • Incontinence: in severe cases, an inability to control the bladder and bowels may be possible.

In situations where the spinal fracture has impacted the proper functioning of the spinal cord, a number of other symptoms are possible:

  • Numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness: This can be caused by nerve damage.
  • Muscle atrophy: This occurs when the muscles waste away. This can be caused by chronic, untreated spinal fractures caused radiculopathy or myelopathy.
  • Paralysis: In severe cases, in which the spinal cord is severed, a patient can become paralyzed.

Are There Any Serious Complications of Spinal Fractures?

Spinal fractures can lead to numerous serious complications which can adversely impact a patient’s quality of life, especially in situations where a severe fracture did not receive adequate treatment.

These complications may include:

Spinal Cord Injury

Severe fractures of the spine run the risk of depositing shards of bone into the spinal cord. The spinal cord is the means by which the brain is able to communicate with the rest of the body. As such, damage to the spinal cord can result in nerve damage, loss of sensation or paralysis.

Progressive Deformity

Unstable spinal fractures can cause a progressive deformity of the spine’s alignment. This may result in a noticeable loss in height by up to six inches. As well, a spinal fracture can result in kyphosis, a deformity of the spine which causes the patient to have a bent, stooped posture. Spinal deformities can impede the ability of the patient to walk freely and painlessly.

Pulmonary Embolism

Blood clots are masses of blood that are formed from platelets, proteins and cells. Blood clots can develop within the bloodstream and begin to travel throughout the body’s cardiovascular system. These blood clots can lodge in arteries, blocking blood flow. In some cases, these blood clots can lodge within the pulmonary arteries, the arteries which carry blood to the lungs. This medical emergency is known as a pulmonary embolism.

Who is Most at Risk for Spinal Fractures?

Certain people are at an increased risk of developing spinal fractures. Those with conditions that weaken the bone, such as osteoporosis, are particularly vulnerable.

Additionally, those engaged in high-risk activities or occupations that expose them to the potential for severe falls or impacts are more likely to suffer from these fractures. Age also plays a role, with older adults being more prone to compression fractures due to bone density loss.

How Can I Reduce My Risk of Developing A Spinal Fracture?

There is no definitive way to prevent a person from experiencing a spinal fracture. However, there are certain steps you can take to potentially reduce your risk. These steps may include:

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including eating a diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D to keep the bones strong.
  • Regular exercise to help keep the bones and muscles strong.
  • Avoiding sports, hobbies and other activities that pose a high risk of spinal injury.

For those with underlying health conditions that affect bone density, like osteoporosis, medical interventions may be necessary to strengthen the bone and minimize the risk of fractures.

Need a Spinal Fracture Specialist in Orange County? Hoag Has the Expertise You Need to Heal.

At the Hoag Spine Institute, we’re committed to providing advanced, compassionate care for spinal conditions such as vertebral fractures.

With state-of-the-art technology and a patient-focused environment, our skilled team of doctors is dedicated to diagnosing and treating spinal injuries with precision and care. Our comprehensive approach ensures personalized treatment plans that aim for the best possible outcomes.

Have you been diagnosed with a spinal fracture in Orange County? Trust the Hoag Spine Institute to support your journey to recovery, with expert care and innovative treatments every step of the way. Contact us today at 949-764-1411 or through our online form.

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