Broken Back: Treatment, Causes, Symptoms and Diagnosis

Broken Back Overview

A broken back is a potentially life-changing injury that can cause paralysis below the site of the fracture. Understanding the common symptoms of a broken back can help to ensure that you receive the correct treatment for your injury. This helpful guide details the causes and symptoms of a broken back and how you can help speed up your recovery time.

A broken back can range from a minor injury that remains unnoticed for a period of time to an injury that is severe and life changing. This guide provides information on the causes and symptoms of a broken back, how this type of injury is treated and the prognosis for the future. For more information, click on a section below.

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What is the Definition of a Broken Back?

Broken back

Broken back

A broken back refers to a break or a fracture in one or more of the spine bones. In many cases, a broken back bone is classed as a very serious injury which warrants urgent medical treatment. You should always seek prompt medical attention if you think you have a broken back injury, even if you feel little pain or discomfort. The longer you leave it, the higher the risk of doing more damage which could result in your condition being that much harder to treat and it could slow down your broken back injury recovery time considerably.

What are Broken Back Key Facts

A broken back differs from other fractures in the body due to the risk of nerve or spinal cord damage.

A broken back can be an extremely minor, painless injury or it can be one of the most serious and life changing injuries you can sustain. In severe cases, major broken back injuries can cause paralysis below the location of the fracture.

Broken back NHS treatment for a minor fracture usually consists of rest and self-care, whereas a serious broken back injury may require multiple operations to heal. In extreme cases, the patient may never make a full recovery from their injury.

Your back bone is the primary support system for the entire skeleton and is made up of 33 separate bones known as vertebrae. Your spine moves and flexes in many different directions, which allows you to move your body in ways such as bending up and down or twisting your torso. The spinal cord, which carries the main foundation of nerves that connect every part of the body to the brain, is located inside your spine.

What are the Symptoms of a Broken Back?

Broken back symptoms are sometimes difficult to spot as there is often no initial pain associated with the injury. However, you are likely to notice pain developing that gradually gets worse over time, until it becomes sharp and unbearable. The lack of initial broken back symptoms means this kind of injury is often overlooked or dismissed as just a general random “twinge”. By familiarising yourself with the symptoms of a broken back, you can make sure you receive the best treatment possible for your injury. Seek urgent medical attention if you or someone you know experiences any of the following broken back symptoms:

  • Back pain that is located near the point of the fracture.
  • Numbness, tingling or altered sensation in the hands, arms, legs or feet
  • Muscle spasms that occur for no obvious reason
  • Alterations in bowel and/ or bladder movement
  • The inability or reduced ability in using the arms or legs

What Are the Common Causes of a Broken Back?

Some of the most common causes of a broken backbone include:

  • Car or vehicle accidents – road traffic collisions account for about 45% of all broken back
  • Falls and trips – around 20% of all broken back injuries are a result of a tripping or falling accident. Accidental falls are the most common cause of back fractures in the elderly.
  • Physical violence – acts of violence are the cause of 15% of all broken back injuries.
  • Sports injuries – 15% of broken back cases are due to an injury being sustained during sports.

When Should You Seek Medical Attention for a Broken Back?

One of the main broken back symptoms is physical pain. You may first notice this as a “twinge” or an ache in your back. You should seek immediate medical attention if you notice any pain in your back whilst carrying out any of the activities listed below.

  • Lifting moderately light items such as a shopping basket
  • Bending over to put on your shoes or pick something up from the floor
  • Lifting bags or luggage into the boot of your car
  • Pain while changing your bed sheets

If you have sustained a broken back injury, these everyday tasks are likely to cause you pain. You can use these as a guideline when performing similar tasks. If you experience pain, contact your doctor.

Can I Get a Free Expert Orthopaedic Assessment of My Broken Bone Report?

During the diagnostic procedure for a broken back, you will be referred for a broken back x-ray or an MRI scan. Your doctor will the use these results to compile a broken bone report which will detail the nature of your injury and what treatment is best for you. You are entitled to see a copy of this report, if you wish to do so.

By getting in contact with us, we may be able to help you to receive a free expert orthopaedic assessment of your broken bone report. This free medical opinion can help to highlight any improvements that may be required in your broken back NHS treatment and help you to recover quicker and better. Contact our friendly team today and we can help you straight away.

How is a Broken Back Diagnosed?

The most common way to diagnose a broken back is by an x-ray. If your doctor suspects that you have sustained a broken back injury, you will usually be referred for an x ray which will show the nature and extent of any fractures in the vertebrae.

If your x-ray doesn’t show a fracture, your doctor may refer you for a CT scan which will up produce a two-dimensional image of your vertebrae.

If neither a CT scan or x-ray shows a break in the bone, you may be referred for an MRI scan which is an effective imaging test for showing up minor fractures and any damage to the surrounding tissue.

How is a Broken Back Treated?

Broken back treatment will generally start with you being given painkillers to manage the pain. Once your broken back pain is under control, the nursing staff at the hospital will attempt to immobilise your body so that your broken back does not become further damaged during treatment.

If you have sustained a simple broken back fracture, your doctor may apply a broken back brace, which acts in the same way as a plaster cast, by keeping the spine partially immobile. This kind of supporting brace will also help to keep your spine in alignment during the healing process.

For complex broken back injuries, you may require one of the following surgical procedures before your doctor applies a broken back brace:

  • Fusion – during this procedure, a surgeon will connect the broken vertebrae to an adjacent vertebra using a bone graft along with surgical equipment such as pins, screws and rods.
  • Instrumentation – this is a similar process to fusion without the use of a bone graft

What Free Private Treatment for a Broken Back is Available?

Treatment for broken back

Treatment for broken back

If you are receiving broken back NHS treatment, you could be entitled to free private medical care that could accelerate your recovery following your injury. Depending on where in the UK you live, you could be eligible for free medical treatment outside the NHS which could make your recovery from your broken back injury a quicker and more comfortable one.

How Should I Care for My Broken Back Once Home

Broken back healing time largely depends on how well you look after your broken back injury following your discharge from hospital. Below is some helpful advice to aid your broken back recovery time while at home:

Rest is the most effective way to heal a broken back. When you are recovering from your broken backbone at home, you should try to stay as immobile as possible and avoid any kind of stress on your back, such as bending or lifting. For the first few weeks after your injury, you should place pillows beneath your knees when you are laying down, to reduce any added pressure on your spine.

Once you have completed your prescribed course of painkillers from your doctor, you can use over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol and ibuprofen to help manage any pain or discomfort you feel during the recovery process.

Rest is a crucial part of the initial healing process, so avoid walking with a broken back injury too soon.

Once your fracture has started to heal, you should have a conversation with your doctor to discuss whether there is anything else you could be doing, such as broken back exercises, to aid your recovery.

 During your recovery from a broken back injury, you should contact your doctor immediately if your pain worsens or you notice any unusual symptoms such as numbness or tingling in your extremities.

Should I Attend Follow Up Appointments for a Broken Back?

Broken back recovery time depends on how well you progress with your treatment as an outpatient. Following your discharge from hospital, you will be advised to rest until your fracture begins to heal. Once your broken back injury has stabilised, you will need to attend several follow up appointments at the hospital during the recovery process.

Initially, these appointments will be to ensure your broken back is healing as it should be and no complications have arisen as a result of your injury. Towards the end of your treatment, the medical team will speak to you about the rehabilitation process and how you will restore mobility in your spine once the broken back brace is removed.

How Long Does it Take for a Broken Back to Heal?

Broken back healing time depends on several factors such as the extent and severity of the injury. Simple broken back disc injuries typically heal within 8 to 10 weeks.

Severe broken back injuries, especially those that require corrective surgery, can take much longer to heal.

If you have broken your back, you should also consider rehabilitation time in the recovery process. If you have sustained a severe fracture to your back, it could take several months of physiotherapy for you to walk and restore strength and dexterity.

You may be eligible to receive free medical care or supplies on top of the NHS treatment you are already receiving. This could mean having a custom-made broken back brace to make your recovery a more comfortable one. By getting in touch with us today, we can tell you if you are entitled to free, private medical care for your broken back injury.

How Can I Recover Faster, Safely From a Broken Back?

Once your broken back brace is removed after 8 to 10 weeks, you will require physiotherapy to regain strength in your back and to be able to perform everyday activities such as walking, lifting and bending.

You may be entitled to free physiotherapy treatment to help speed up your recovery from your broken back injury. Get in touch with our friendly, professional team today and we can let you know if you are eligible to receive free physiotherapy treatment.

What are the Complications Associated with a Broken Back?

As with any kind of fracture, a broken back injury comes with a risk of complications. There are many complications that could occur from a broken back.  These include:

  • Infection – there is a risk of the development of an infection if surgery is required to realign a broken back
  • Trapped nerves – if your vertebrae move as a result of a broken back injury, it could trap one of the nerves in your spine.
  • Nonunion – this can occur when a severe broken back means pieces of the bone are too far apart for them to properly heal.
  • Rotation – this can happen when two parts of a broken vertebra begin to heal crookedly.

The prognosis for a broken back injury depends on the extent of the fracture. For simple fractures, the prognosis is usually good, with most patients being back on their feet within 10 weeks of the injury taking place. Some patients who have sustained damage to their spinal cord never regain the ability to use their legs.

I Think My Doctor Missed Something When Treating my Broken Back?

If you think that you have received inadequate treatment for your back fracture, it is important that you gain knowledge on broken back injuries in order to confirm whether your suspicions are correct. The links at the bottom of this guide provide more in-depth and detailed information on broken back injuries.

Are There Any Long-Term Health Issues Associated with a Broken Back?

It is possible to experience long-term health effects following a broken back injury, even if you have made a good recovery. Sometimes, these health issues arise many years after the injury takes place. The most common long-term health effects after a broken back include:

  • A reduction in height – the spine becomes slightly shorter with every fracture that occurs. If your broken back injury involves several vertebrae, you may experience a noticeable loss of height
  • A curved spine – if one or more vertebrae collapses due to a broken back injury, you may experience Kyphosis, which is the medical term for a curvature in the spine
  • Gastric issues – if your spine becomes shorter as a result of a broken back, you may experience problems with your digestive system
  • Respiratory problems – A shortened spine can affect lung function. You may also experience broken back rib symptoms or broken back rib issues following your injury

Contact Us to Find Out if You are Entitled to Free Private Treatment

If you’ve suffered a broken back, you may be entitled to free private medical treatment in your local area. This could mean having access to essential medical supplies such as a broken back brace or a free expert assessment of our broken bone report following your x-ray for your broken back. It could also mean receiving free physiotherapy treatment to help speed up your recovery time.

To find out what free broken back medical help is available in your area, give us a quick call today. You can find out almost instantly if you are eligible to receive cost-free private health care for your broken back.

Links to Websites Offering Essential Reading

If you or a family member suffered a severe back injury and would like more information about the condition the following link provides essential reading:

More about back injuries and paralysis

If you suffered a back injury that left with having to cope with a lot of pain and discomfort, the following link takes you to the NHS website where you will find lots of valuable information about back pain:

More about coping with back pain

If you would like to know more about how spinal injuries are diagnosed, the following link provides essential reading on the topic:

More about how spinal injuries are diagnosed