Spinal Injury

Trauma to the spine can be caused by a number of factors, including infections, injury, electric shock, extreme twisting of the body, a fall or an accident. All injuries to the spine should receive critical attention because spinal injury can affect mobility in the entire body.

In addition to spinal cord injury, the team of physicians and spine care specialists at Seton Healthcare Family treat a range of other spine injuries:

  • Spinal contusion, commonly caused by high-impact accidents, is when the spinal cord becomes bruised or torn. Spinal contusion is normally linked to spinal cord injury.
  • Vertebrae fractures, typically linked to osteoporosis, are caused by compression in the spine. There are three types of vertebral fractures:
  • Wedge fractures are the most common type of vertebral fractures. A wedge fracture occurs in the front of the vertebra, causing the bone to collapse in the front and creating a wedge shape.
  • Crush fractures occur when the entire bone collapses rather than only the front.
  • Burst fractures occur when both the front and back of the vertebra collapse to some extent. When left untreated, burst fractures can result in progressive deformity.
  • Stinger injuries, also known as burner injuries, result from pinched nerves commonly caused during high-contact sports.

Wellness & Prevention

Because of the varied and complex causes of spinal injuries, there is no way to fully prevent a spine injury from occurring. When participating in high-impact sports such as football, measures should be taken to ensure that athletes practice proper tackling techniques and wear the appropriate protective gear.

To prevent a spinal injury caused by a fall, people can equip their homes with hand rails and secure rugs with tape or slip-resistant backing. Each room in the house should have adequate lighting and flashlights should be stored in easy-to-find places in case of a power outage. Wearing comfortable, practical shoes and staying in good overall physical shape can also help prevent falls.

To lower your risk of getting into a motor vehicle accident, avoid driving over the speed limit and stay aware of blind spots. Keep control of the wheel by driving with both hands and avoid driving at night or in bad weather.

Diagnosis

The exact approach used to diagnose a spine condition depends on the symptoms you are feeling and any related conditions you may have.

Symptoms of a spine injury may include one or more of the following:

  • Back pain or pressure in the neck, back or head.
  • Paralysis, tingling, numbness or weakness in any part of the body.
  • Worsened back pain with standing or walking.
  • Restricted mobility of the spine.
  • A burning or stinging pain that travels down one arm, followed by weakness, numbness or tingling.

If you suspect that you may have a spinal injury, it’s important to seek the advice of a medical professional right away. While many spinal injuries are not serious, if left untreated, injuries may worsen or recur. Your doctor may use one or more methods to diagnose your spinal injury.

  • Radiographs can use X-rays, gamma rays or radiation to create an image of the spinal cord. Radiographs may be used to detect whether the spine has any fractures or dislocations.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio waves and magnetic fields to determine whether there is swelling or bleeding in the cord. This is the best way to diagnose a spinal contusion.
  • To diagnose a stinger injury, a physician typically performs a physical examination. This exam may assess the range of motion of your head or neck, any numbness in your arms and the degrees of pain throughout your body.

Treatments

Your customized treatment plan depends on the severity and the nature of your spinal injury.

Treatment of a spinal contusion follows the same basic guidelines as treatment for spinal cord injury. People with a spinal cord injury undergo a process of inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation. Normally, physical therapy combined with proper equipment use if needed can help people recover from a spinal contusion and live comfortably with spinal cord injury.

Vertebrae fractures are commonly treated with vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty.

  • Vertebroplasty is an outpatient procedure that uses bone cement to stabilize fractures in the vertebrae. Bone cement is injected into the fractured vertebrae using a hollow needle. When the cement hardens, the fractures are stabilized and the spine is better supported.
  • Kyphoplasty seeks to stabilize vertebrae fractures by using a special balloon device. Through a small incision in the back, the doctor inserts a narrow tube. Using an X-ray beam to monitor motions, he or she creates a path to the fractured vertebra. The balloon is then inserted and inflated to a custom size that stabilizes the vertebra. The doctor then uses bone cement to fill the cavity created by the balloon, stabilizing the spine.

Stinger injuries are usually not serious. To treat stinger injuries, your physician may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, the use of hot or cold packs, or if necessary, a neck brace, also known as a cervical collar. Neck braces are used to support the neck and relieve pain or discomfort in the spinal cord. They can also help realign the spinal cord during healing from a stinger injury. Surgery is reserved for the most serious cases.

Aftercare

Most people who experience a spinal injury should refrain from participating in high-impact sports, heavy lifting and other strenuous activities for a few days, weeks or months, depending on the severity and the type of injury.

Because vertebrae fractures often result from low bone density caused by osteoporosis, people susceptible to bone fractures should take special care to minimize their chances of developing further fractures. Calcium and vitamin D supplements, hormone replacement therapy and weight bearing exercises can all help increase bone strength. It’s also important for people with osteoporosis to reduce their risk of falling with exercise, assistive devices and by removing home hazards. Your doctor can provide more extensive tips for fall prevention.

If you have had a spinal contusion, your doctor may recommend a customized physical therapy and rehabilitation program. This may involve retraining of the muscles for optimal spine support and learning skills for using assistive devices.