A traumatic injury to the spinal column is called spine trauma. This type of injury can damage the spinal cord, nerves, vertebrae, soft tissue or any combination. Spine trauma is classified as direct or indirect. Direct trauma results from a blow to the spine or penetrating injury such as a gunshot or knife wound. If an individual sustains trauma elsewhere on the body that, in turn, causes dislocation or fracture of spinal structures, then the trauma is referred to as indirect. For example, if you fall off a ladder and land on your side, your spine could be injured indirectly as a result of the fall.
Symptoms can range from back or neck pain to variations in loss of neurological function. Pain may be the only symptom if trauma is limited to the bones or ligaments. In cases of severe trauma (ie, spinal cord injury), sensory and/or motor impairment may occur. Symptoms of spinal cord injury are related to severity of the injury and the area of the spinal cord affected.
Injuries associated with spine trauma include:
A vertebral compression fracture denotes a partial break occurring in the front (anterior) of the vertebra. Compression fractures can cause pain ranging from mild to severe. A burst fracture is a more serious injury, in that the vertebra is crushed in all directions. Burst fractures cause searing pain, often affect motor function and carry the risk of inflicting damage to the spinal cord.
If we suspect spine trauma, we stabilize the back or neck with a brace. Orthopedic spine specialist Dr. Frazier examines you to determine if there are any obvious neurological deficits, or if you are experiencing pain anywhere along the spinal column. He will most likely evaluate your injury further with X-rays, CT scan or MRI. Dr. Frazier reviews possible loss of arm or leg reflexes, muscle weakness, loss of feeling and/or abnormal sensations such as numbness or tingling.
Treatment is dependent on the extent of injury. Generally, clinical observation and immobilization with braces or collars is appropriate for mild injuries such as whiplash or sprains. Injuries causing fracture of disc herniation may require surgical intervention such as fusion, decompression, or internal or external reduction. If injury to the spinal cord has occurred, high doses of steroids are usually administered in the Emergency Room to reduce swelling and prevent further damage to the spinal cord. We may make a surgical recommendation if the injury is severe, after nonsurgical treatments are exhausted, or if certain symptoms worsen. Dr. Frazier will explain your condition and prognosis. If Dr. Frazier recommends spine surgery, he will explain to you:
Having a clear understanding of the expected surgical outcome is essential to making an informed treatment decision. Trauma to the spine has the potential to cause great physical and emotional distress. Dr. Frazier and his staff recognize this and are committed to giving you the support you need and working with you during your recovery.
Saint Barnabas Medical Center
Formerly St. Luke’s-Roosevelt
Hospital in Manhattan
Formerly Lenox Hill Hospital