Fractured Spine: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments

Fractured Spine Overview

A fractured spine can range from a relatively minor spinal injury to a serious break in the spine which could carry life-changing consequences. It can be very painful and traumatic for patients, especially those who injuries were the result of physical trauma such as a car accident.

Fractured spine

Fractured spine

There are different types of spinal injury, from a stress fracture to the vertebrae, to damage to the spinal cord. There are also potential side effects, and different treatments will take in to account your injuries and the best chance for a successful recovery. Some treatments, such as physiotherapy, are an essential tool in the process from spinal injuries. Treatment of a spine fracture can vary, and symptoms range from those that are relatively simple to treat to those needing more advanced surgery.

This guide takes you through fractured spine symptoms and whether you could be entitled to free private care that may be available in your area.

To find out more on causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatments for a fractured spine, please click on the Select a Section below.

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What is the Definition of a Fractured Spine?

There are different types of spinal fracture, ranging from relatively minor injuries such as back side vertebral fractures, through to vertebral body fractures, which are more serious in nature. For some people, a fractured spine can cause debilitating pain, but for others there may be little to no pain or discomfort. Pain can last for days, weeks or months and the length of your recovery time depends on the type of fracture you have sustained. For patients who experience long-term pain, surgery will likely to part of your treatment. Your doctor will walk you through the best treatment plan for your injuries and the potential outcomes from the treatment.

The type of fracture you experience may be dictated by how the injury occurred in the first place. Common types of fracture include:

Compression Fracture

  • This type of fracture is most commonly associated with patients with conditions such as osteoporosis, which existed prior to the injury. Osteoporosis is a decrease of bone density and occurs in every adult over the age of 35 as a general rule, however this weakening of the bone can be more severe in some adults leading to osteoporosis and related complications such as a break in the spine

Burst Fracture

  • When the spine has been subjected to physical trauma, it may be enough to cause fractured spine vertebrae, this happens when vertebrae are crushed

Flexion-distraction Fracture

  • A spine fracture of this type can be the result of a sudden movement forward. This can cause the spine to flex, resulting in a fractured disc in the spine.

What are the Most Common Causes of a Fractured Spine?

A fractured spine can happen after a fall, through extreme sports activities a car accident, or could result from diseases such as osteoporosis or spine tumours, which can contribute to a fracture.

Data has revealed some of the main causes:

  • Motor vehicle accidents (45%)
  • After a fall (20%)
  • Sports injuries (15%)
  • Violence (15%)
  • Other (5%)

Whiplash

Whiplash injuries are most commonly the result of a motor vehicle accident. It occurs when the head is jerked back and forwards or when a sudden motion causes hyperextension to the neck muscles or ligaments, causing the discs to bulge. If you have experienced whiplash, you may develop symptoms such as headaches, neck pain and/or stiff muscles.

Whiplash should not be confused with a fracture or spinal cord injury and symptoms usually decrease with conservative treatment. As with any suspected break in the spine, it is important to be checked carefully by a doctor.

Spinal instability

The spine can become unstable when ligaments are overstretched or a fracture of the spine has occurred. Instability causes too much motion between the bones of the spinal vertebrae. This type of injury can cause further discomfort in the form of pain or even damage to the nerves of the spine or the spinal cord as the spine moves in an abnormal way that causes slipping or rubbing.

If you have suffered an unstable fracture, you may require surgery to re-align the bones and prevent injury to the nerve or spinal cord. If the fracture is stable, treatment usually consists of a brace as well as complete rest.

What are the symptoms of a Fractured Spine?

Fractured spine symptoms can vary greatly, depending on location of the injury and its severity. People can experience some, or a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Tingling
  • Muscle spasm
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Bladder or bowel changes

In the most in severe cases, you may experience some paralysis. Paralysis, which involves a loss of movement in the arms or legs, may mean that injury has been sustained to the spinal cord. Injury to the spinal cord does not necessarily accompany a fracture of the spine, and only in rare cases is the spinal cord completed severed.

Location of the spinal fracture

Fractures can occur along any region of the spine. The majority (64%) tend to occur in the lower back region, or the thoracolumbar spine. These often occur in an area called the T12-L1 region. Another 5-10% of fractures occur in the upper spine or neck, also called the cervical region. These are sometimes known as “c spine fractures”.

Back fractures are classified into groups. There are three main categories:

Vertebral body compression fracture

When a bone breaks due to an overload of pressure. This is called a vertebral body compression fracture; it is the most common type of break in the spine. A vertebral body compression fracture happens when an unexpected downward force shatters the body of the vertebrae, causing it to collapse. If there is enough force, it can lead to a burst fracture, which is when bone fragments infiltrate the spinal canal.

You can also suffer vertebral compression fractures (VCFs) if there is a pre-existing disease such as osteoporosis. Tumours and certain cancer types that cause bones to weaken can also lead to VCFs. In people with VCF injuries, the vertebra collapses into a wedge-shape. If there are multiple fractures of this kind, it can cause the spine to hunch forwards. When this happens, it is called kyphosis.

Dislocations

A dislocated vertebrae happens when discs or ligaments connecting two vertebrae become torn or stretched. A dislocation means the bones may become misaligned. Dislocations can be the result of a motor vehicle collision, for instance when rapid motion forward pushes the upper body against a seat belt, causing the vertebra to pull apart and stretching the ligaments. If vertebrae become dislocated, it can result in instability and compression of the spinal cord. This type of spinal injury is commonly treated through a brace or surgery to stabilise the spine.

Fracture-dislocations

A fracture-dislocation is a spine fracture that includes broken bone as well as torn ligaments. This type of spinal injury is often unstable and requires surgery. The more serious nature of the break means that a fracture-dislocation can be a debilitating injury.

How is a Fractured Spine Diagnosed?

As a fracture of the spine often occurs as a result of a car accident, paramedics are often the first health professionals who will look at the injury. They will usually take you to the emergency department at the earliest opportunity. The first doctor to attend your injuries in A&E will be a member of the trauma team and will specialise in emergency medicine. Other specialists may be asked to assess your condition too, depending upon the type of injuries you have sustained.

In particular, lung function will be assessed, and a doctor will also perform a physical examination of your spine. A neck or back brace will be used to stabilise a suspected fractured spine while diagnostic tests are being carried out. These include x-rays, which will show the vertebrae in your spine and reveal any potential fractures.

Special fractured spine x-rays may also be used to check for abnormal movement. This can be established through extension x-rays and special flexion. Another test that can be used is a computed tomography scan. This is more commonly known as a CT scan. It is a non-invasive and safe way of viewing changes in the spinal bone structure using an x-ray beam and computer to produce a 2-dimensional image of the area.

MRI scans may also be used. MRI is short for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. This is a non-invasive scan of the soft tissues of the spine; it works using the magnetic field and radio frequency. In some cases, MRI is performed using a dye, which is injected into the bloodstream. MRI scans are more effective than x-ray at revealing damaged nerves and fractured discs in the spine, it is particularly valuable due to that fact that it can assess damage to the soft tissue of the ligaments and discs. An MRI is useful in determining whether spinal cord injury is present.

How is a Fractured Spine Treated?

The immediate aim of treatment for a fractured spine is to stabilise the injury to prevent further issues, treatment therefore, will initially focus on pain management and stabilisation. The nature of a fractured spine is such that there may be other injuries to the body, for example, to the chest. Patients who present with a suspected fracture of the spine will also be examined for other injuries and offered appropriate treatment. Treatment for the fracture may include a brace and/or surgery. This is determined by the type of break and its stability.

Fractured spine treatments include:

Braces

This treatment is designed to maintain the alignment of the spine and immobilise it to reduce pain. For stable fractures, treatment to stabilise the injury may be all that is required. Different types of fractured spine braces are available depending on the area in which the injury was sustained.

  • Cervical (neck) fractures: these are stabilised using a rigid brace, called a Miami J collar
  • Upper back fractures – these are immobilised using a cervical-thoracic brace, also called a Minerva collar
  • Lower back fractures – fractures in this area are treated using a thoracolumbar-sacral orthosis (TLSO) brace

When a fracture occurs, the most urgent question is, can a fractured spine heal? In the case of stable fractures, healing is often achieved from 8 to 12 weeks.

For an unstable fracture or dislocation of the spine, traction could be used to re-align the spine. This may be followed up with a halo ring and vest brace to ensure that the neck and spine remains stable. Fractured spine recovery times may be longer.

Instrumentation and Fusion

An unstable fractured spine could require surgical intervention. Fusion is a surgical technique that involves joining (fusing) vertebrae together using a bone graft. The graft is designed to reconnect the vertebrae above and below, so that a solid piece of bone is formed. It is held intact using equipment such as rods, hooks, plates, pedicle screws or cages. The bone grafting process can take several months.

Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty

Surgical procedures such as vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty are often used in the treatment of compression fractures that are usually associated with osteoporosis and spinal tumours. These surgical techniques are less invasive treatments for this type of injury. A vertebroplasty entails injecting bone cement into the fractured vertebra using a hollow needle.

Kyphoplasty also injects bone cement into the fractured vertebrae of the spine, however the procedure differs from vertebroplasty in that a balloon is used. The balloon is inserted and then inflated, expanding the compressed vertebrae and allowing the bone cement to knit the fractured spine together.

Could I Qualify For Free Private Treatment for a Fractured Spine?

Fractured spine treatment

Fractured spine treatment

You may not be aware that private medical care could be available to eligible residents living in the UK. If you have suffered a fractured spine, you could qualify for free private medical treatment to help you recover from your injuries. Treatments that could be available range from simple medical supplies to advanced treatment to support your speedy recovery.

Find out if you could be eligible to receive private health care treatment that could be available locally for patients across the UK. Contact our friendly team to discuss your options today.

Is There a Free Treatment Available for a Fractured Spine?

NHS treatment may be just the beginning of your journey to recovery. If you qualify for private medical treatment, you could also receive additional care for a fractured spine, including medical compresses, crutches, ice packs and other medical supplies. You may also be eligible to receive free advice treatments such as physiotherapy.

Call our professional team today to find out what help is available to support your return to health.

Are There Any Complications Associated with a Fractured Spine?

A number of complications can occur following a back fracture. These are usually associated with the thoracic and lumbar spine, and can include:

  • Pressure sores
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood clots around the pelvic region and legs (this may occur due to long periods of inactivity during recovery)
  • Pulmonary embolism; a blocked artery that occurs when a blood clot breaks free and travels to the lungs.

Complications associated with spinal surgery

Spinal surgery can also carry the risk of complications. These will be discussed in consultation with your doctor, and measures will be taken to reduce any risk of complications during your surgery. This includes early treatment, which is vital to your recovery. Risks associated with surgery include:

  • Infection
  • Instrument failure
  • Bleeding
  • Spinal fluid leaks
  • Nonunion (the fractured bone fails to heal)

Measures to reduce potential risks during surgery could include:

  • Reducing the risk of developing blood clots by means of lower leg compression stockings or medication
  • Postoperative care
  • Correct surgical techniques

A treatment plan will be produced in conjunction with your doctor.

I Think My Doctor Missed Something When Diagnosing My Fractured Spine?

If you have concerns over your fractured spine treatment or are worried that your doctor has missed a diagnosis or made some other errors in your care, we advise a thorough research of spinal injuries, to ensure that you are fully informed and able to plan your next course of action.

Use the links at the bottom of this page to find out additional information such as symptoms of a fractured spine, treatment and more.

How Long Does a Fractured Spine Take to Heal?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how does a fractured spine take to heal. The healing process of a fractured spine is variable and depends on the severity of the injury. It can also be affected by the age and general health of the patient. For instance, it can take longer to treat a fractured spine in elderly people than in younger patients. For younger people, who can be susceptible to a stress fracture of the spine, recovery times are relatively quick.

As a general guide, a minor fractured spine injury may heal in 8 to 10 weeks if an effective treatment plan is in place, including a course of physiotherapy. The purpose of physiotherapy is to aid your recovery, restore movement in the spine as close to it was prior to the injury, and to prevent further issues arising in the future.

Is It Possible to Speed Up My Recovery From a Fractured Spine Safely?

Physiotherapy can be an essential part of your recovery from a fractured spine. Through the tailored exercises prescribed by a physiotherapist, you can significantly aid healing and potentially shorten the time it takes for you to recover. You may be able to receive extra physiotherapy treatments from a private medical provider in the UK. Find out today if you could be eligible for free private treatment for your spinal injury by giving out team a call.

Are There Any Long-Term Health Issues Associated with a Fractured Spine?

A period of rehabilitation is critical to your full recovery from a fractured spine. Rehabilitation applies to both minor spinal injuries requiring nonsurgical intervention as well as more serious cases needing surgery. Rehabilitation aims to reduce your pain and restore mobility in the spine. Treatment will be geared towards restoring pre-injury function to your spine. This could consist of both inpatient and outpatient appointments with a physiotherapist.

There are also potential long-term implications for people with a fractured spine due to osteoporosis, which is a disease that makes the bone weaker and thus more prone to breaks. If this is the case, your condition requires careful management, as you could be at an increased risk for additional fractures. Your doctor will take you through the treatments available, which are designed to prevent bone density loss during your recovery.

In rare instances, there may be other complicating factors that could delay your fractured spine recovery. These include paralysis (neurologic injury), inadequate reduction of the fracture and progressive deformity of the spine.

To Find Out if You Qualify for Free Medical Care in Your Area, Contact Us Today

If you have suffered a fractured spine, you may be eligible to receive free private medical care from a local provider. Many people living in the UK are unaware that free private treatment may be available to help you recovery from this and many other types of injury.

You could qualify for treatment from a private medical provider, free of charge. Treatments could include medical supplies and equipment, to advanced treatments such as physiotherapy and orthopaedic reports.

Find out if you are eligible for treatment for a fractured spine by speaking to a member of our friendly and knowledgeable team. With extra care, you could improve the outcome of a fractured spine. You can learn within 30 seconds whether local care is available through one of our free private medical providers.

Links to Websites that Provide Valuable Information on Fractured Spines

If you suffered a serious injury to your spine and would like more information, the following link takes you to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine where you will find a lot of useful information on the topic:

More about spinal injuries

If you would like more information on how spinal injuries are diagnosed the following link takes you to the British Society of Interventional Radiology where you will find a lot of useful information on the topic:

British Society of Interventional Radiology

To find out more information on spinal injuries caused by osteoporosis, please follow the link below:

National Osteoporosis Society