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Spinal Fracture Care

Award-Winning Orthopedic Services in Orange County

Fractures of the spinal column, or vertebrae, have the potential to be much more serious than a broken finger or ankle. The spinal column serves to provide mobile protection to the spinal cord and nerve roots. This system, referred to as the nervous system, relays messages between the brain and the body. Injuries to the spine can cause fragments of bone to damage the spinal cord or nerve roots.

While some spinal fractures are very serious injuries requiring emergency medical treatments, other fractures of the spine can be the result of bones weakened by osteoporosis. Most spinal fractures occur in the middle of the back (thoracic) and lower back (lumbar) or at the connection of the two (thoracolumbar junction). Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the fracture and if the patient has other injuries since most spinal injuries are the result of high-impact trauma such as:

  • Car or motorcycle accidents
  • Falls from a significant height
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Sports injuries

Symptoms of Spine Fractures

Some people develop a fracture of the spine with relatively minor or even no trauma. These patients tend to be affected by conditions that weaken the bone, such as osteoporosis, bone diseases, spinal tumors and certain forms of cancer. These fractures are often called spinal compression fractures. The vast majority of these type of fractures are treated non-operatively with medication, therapy, and occasionally bracing.

Symptoms of a spinal compression fracture include:

  • Back pain
  • Pain that worsens when standing or walking
  • Trouble bending or twisting your body
  • Loss of height
  • A curved spine

Symptoms of a spinal fracture not caused by weakened bone, but from a trauma to the spine will have varying symptoms depending on the severity and location of the injury.

Symptoms of a traumatic spinal fracture include:

  • Back or neck pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Weakness
  • Bowel / bladder changes
  • Paralysis

Not all spinal fractures cause spinal cord injury and rarely is the spinal cord completely severed. In most cases of a spinal injury, paramedics should be called and take the patient to an emergency room (ER). Depending on injuries sustained the Emergency Medicine specialist who initially evaluates you will call in other specialists, such as a spine surgeon, if they believe you have a spinal fracture.

Diagnosis of Spine Fractures

The diagnosis for a spinal fracture is confirmed by physical examination and followed by imaging tests.

These tests may include:

  • X-rays – X-rays can reveal vertebral (spinal column) problems, fractures or degenerative changes in the spine.
  • CT scan – A CT scan may provide a better look at abnormalities seen on an X-ray using a series of cross-sectional images that can define bone, disk and other problems.
  • MRI – An MRI is very helpful for looking at the spinal cord and identifying herniated disks, blood clots or other masses that may be compressing the spinal cord.

Treatment Options for Spine Fractures

Many times, spine fractures can be treated conservatively, that is, without surgery. In these cases, bracing and physical therapy are utilized to lend stability to the injured segments of the spine until the body mends the fracture.

Braces do three things:

  1. Maintain spinal alignment
  2. Control pain by restricting movement
  3. Immobilize the spine to aid in healing

For patients with a pinched nerve or unstable spine severe, the pain caused by the spinal fracture may not improve with these conservative measures. In which case, spine surgery may be required.

Surgical Treatment of a Spinal Fracture

Surgical correction of spinal fracture typically involves decompressing nerves that are being pinched, and stabilizing a segment of the spine with screws and rods. This procedure is referred to as spinal fusion. For a severe spinal fracture, surgery consists of percutaneous vertebral augmentation, which is a surgery wherein the fractured bone is stabilized with cement or other filler in a minimally invasive fashion.

Two techniques for this surgery are: vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty.

  • In vertebroplasty, the cement or filler is injected through a hollow needle placed into the fractured bone.
  • In kyphoplasty, a balloon is first inserted and inflated to re-expand the bone before filling the space with cement or filler.

Surgery for a spine fracture is performed as an inpatient procedure in the hospital and recovery time varies depending on the complexity of the surgery.

Find a Back Doctor or Spine Surgeon

If you have a spinal fracture sustained by a traumatic injury, please call 911 immediately and seek emergency care. For patients admitted to the hospital with a spinal fracture or having been diagnosed by an ER, Urgent Care or Primary Care Physician, the patient can request that a Hoag Orthopedic Institute trauma surgeon or spine surgeon evaluate you in the Emergency Room or upon admission. Our surgeons have active medical staff rights at Hoag Hospital Irvine, Hoag Hospital Newport Beach and work closely with Hoag Urgent Care locations to provide top spine care to the Orange County community. Our surgeons are on-call for many Orange County hospitals.

For spinal compression fractures caused by bone weakening like osteoporosis, our board certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeons will build a custom treatment plan to help you get back to doing the things you love doing.

Hoag Orthopedic Institute is ranked as one of the top Orthopedic Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in 2019-2020. Contact Hoag Orthopedic Institute today to schedule a consultation with one of our spine doctors.

Find a spine surgeon that treats Spinal Fractures. ​
Call us at (855) 999-4641 to make an appointment.

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