Spine Fractures and Instability
(Road traffic accidents and workplace injuries)
Spine trauma is damage to the spine caused from a sudden traumatic injury such as a fall, motor vehicle accident or sports injury. Trauma can cause damage to the vertebrae, spinal cord and/or nearby nerves. Injury to the spine may cause various conditions including fractures, dislocation, partial misalignment (subluxation), disc compression (herniated disc), hematoma (accumulation of blood), crushing, bruising, tearing or penetration of spinal cord tissue, brain stem stroke and partial or complete tearing of ligaments.
The most common symptom of a spinal injury is pain. Spinal injuries cause weakness and sensory loss and may proceed to paralysis with loss of all sensation and reflexes if the spinal nerves are damaged. It may also affect breathing and blood pressure, and lead to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), pneumonia, bowel, bladder or erectile dysfunction. Spinal injuries are diagnosed using X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the spine.
Spinal trauma is an emergency condition and should be treated immediately to avoid further injury to the spinal cord. Immobilization of the head, neck and back is often the initial intervention. You may be treated with medications and epidural injections (injecting into spine) to alleviate pain. Surgery is recommended when other treatments are unsuccessful or inappropriate, and involves stabilization of any fractures and release of pressure from the compressed nerves and spinal cord. Completely damaged nerve tissue cannot be regenerated, but can be managed over time to restore some amount of feeling and function.
Long-term recovery from a traumatic spinal injury is based on physical therapy to prevent muscle wasting and development of contractures, occupational therapy to learn alternative methods of performing daily activities, and speech therapy to improve communication if needed.