What is a Spinal Fracture?
A spinal fracture occurs when one of the bones in the spine collapses or fractures. They can vary in terms of severity. Some fractures are due to serious, jarring injuries, while others are caused by osteoporosis and other conditions that weaken the bones. While fractures can occur at any area of the spine, they are most common in the mid to low back.
What Causes a Spinal Fracture?
Spinal fractures can be caused by the following:
- Other conditions that affect bone density
Where Can a Spinal Fracture Happen?
A spinal fracture can happen in the following areas:
- Lower back
- Middle back
- Upper back
However, spinal fractures most commonly occur in the middle back and lower back.
Types of Spinal Fractures
There are three main types of spinal fractures:
- Axial burst fracture– An axial burst fracture is usually caused by a significant fall. The vertebra loses height on the front and back side. The need for surgery depends on the stability of this fracture.
- Chance fracture– Also called a “seat-belt injury,” this type of fracture is the result of a severe forward flexed injury. The vertebra is pulled apart when he upper body is pulled forward and the pelvis remains stabilized.
- Compression fracture– Often caused by osteoporosis, this type of fracture rarely involves the spinal cord. In a compression fracture, the front of the vertebra fractures and loses height, but the posterior part of the back remains stable. This is usually a stable fracture.
How Does a Spinal Fracture Affect the Spine?
A fracture of a vertebra within the spine can potentially cause bone fragments to pinch and damage the spinal nerves or spinal cord. Spinal nerves branch off the spinal cord and pass between the vertebrae, meaning that a fractured vertebra could potentially lead to trauma of these vital nerves. While not all fractures affect the spinal cord or nerves, they become much more serious if they do. Given that the spinal cord and nerves pass information to other parts of the body, a spinal fracture that affects the spinal cord can lead to neurological problems.
What Are the Symptoms of a Spinal Fracture?
The symptoms of a spinal fracture may vary, depending on if the spinal cord has been affected or not.
Some common symptoms of a spinal fracture include:
- Bowel or bladder problems (if spinal cord is affected)
- Pain that travels from the back into the arms or legs (if spinal cord is affected)
- Pain that worsens with movement
- Sudden, severe pain in the back
- Swelling of the back
- Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs (if spinal cord is affected)
What are the Risk Factors for a Spinal Fracture?
The most common risk factors for a spinal fracture include:
- Driving– The most common risk factor associated with a chance fracture is being involved in a car crash.
- Medical conditions – Those who suffer from conditions that affect bone density, such as osteoporosis, are at a higher risk for a spinal fracture.
- Occupation – Those whose occupation requires working from great heights, such as construction, are more likely to suffer a spinal fracture due to a serious fall.
- Sports– Athletes involved in high-impact sports are more likely to receive spinal trauma that could lead to a fracture.
How Do I Prevent a Spinal Fracture?
While you cannot prevent some of the events that lead to a spinal fracture, such as a car crash, you can prevent the spinal fracture itself by:
- Adding calcium and vitamin D to your diet to help strengthen bones
- Adjusting your seat to leave 10 inches between you and the airbag when driving
- Always wear the proper safety gear when playing sports
- Take proper safety measures when working from great heights