Spinal fractures, breaks in the vertebrae that make up your spine, can occur for many reasons, especially trauma and underlying bone disease. How you treat them depends, in large part, on the severity of the fracture.
Some can heal with simple bracing and rest, while others require surgery to repair the damage.
At Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center, our expert neurosurgeons know how problematic spinal fractures can be. Whether the fracture is accompanied by nerve damage or not, spinal fractures require exceptional care.
That’s why we provide a full range of treatment options, from conservative choices like bracing to minimally invasive procedures for compression fractures to complex surgeries for damaged spinal cords. Will your fracture heal on its own with rest? Maybe, maybe not. Here’s why.
In order to understand how and why spinal fractures occur, you need to know a bit about the spine.
The spine reaches from the base of your skull to the bottom of your tailbone. It’s made up of 24 bony vertebrae hooked together by facet joints. In between the vertebrae rest intervertebral discs, pillowy structures that absorb the shock of movement and allow you to bend, flex, and twist.
The middle part of each vertebra is hollow, and when the bones are linked together, they form the spinal column with the spinal canal in the center. Your spinal cord and peripheral nerve roots are located in this space.
If anything narrows or obstructs the canal, it can impinge upon nerves, creating pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.
The spine is divided into four parts:
Fractures can occur in any region.
If you have healthy vertebrae, the greatest risk for a fracture comes from high-energy trauma, such as:
In these cases, patients often have additional serious injuries requiring rapid treatment. In addition, the force of the fracture may push bone into the spinal canal, damaging the fragile spinal cord and other nerves.
Spinal fractures may have another cause: low bone density due to osteoporosis (thinning of the bone), a bone infection, or a tumor.
In these cases, even a small movement, such as reaching for something or getting out of bed, can lead to a type of break known as a compression fracture. Osteoporosis gives no warning signs unless you get tested for it. The first you know of it is when you sustain a fracture.
Well, maybe. It really depends on the severity of the fracture and if any other structures, like nerves, are involved.
To determine which treatment is best for your condition, we perform physical and neurological exams, and order diagnostic imaging. With the results in hand, we develop an individualized treatment plan. Treatment focuses on relieving pain and providing the spine with the support it needs to heal.
Most fractures can be treated conservatively, with immobilization in a brace or corset for anywhere up to 12 weeks and rest. Immobilization helps reduce pain and prevent deformity.
You may also need medication for pain. We determine whether over-the-counter options are sufficient or if you need something stronger.
But if you have a severe or unstable fracture, or if nerves were damaged along with the break, we may recommend surgery to stabilize the spine, realign the bones, and/or relieve pressure on the spinal cord.
Stabilization may involve removing broken vertebrae and replacing them with a plate, screws, or cage. The exact procedure depends on the nature of the injury.
Compression fractures are generally treated with one of two minimally invasive procedures. With vertebroplasty, the surgeon inserts a needle into the center of a collapsed disc and injects a bone cement that hardens and stabilizes your spine.
With kyphoplasty, the surgeon first uses a balloon to restore the vertebra’s normal height and shape, then injects the cement.
Spinal fractures should never be taken lightly. If you’re suffering a spinal injury, we at Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery can help. Contact us by calling any of our four offices to schedule an evaluation with one of our spine specialists, or book your appointment online today.
We’re located in Atlanta, College Park, Bethlehem, and John’s Creek, Georgia.