Do you have a Spinal Fracture? Find out what your symptoms mean—in a few painless clicks.
What is a Spinal Fracture?
Spinal fractures can vary widely in severity and in type. While some fractures are the result of bones that are weakened by osteoporosis, others are very serious injuries that require immediate medical care.
Most (SFs) occur in the mid and lower back. Sometimes, fractures can even occur where these two places meet. The treatment given depends on the severity and type of the condition, as well as whether or not the patient has other related injuries.
Types of Spinal Fractures (SFs)
Spinal fractures come in many different forms: Burst, Compression, Flexion-Distraction, and Fracture-Dislocation are the four main types of spinal fractures. The following passage provides brief descriptions of each:
- Burst Fracture: Severe trauma causes this type of spinal fracture. They are most common in car accidents. Essentially, a burst fracture occurs when extreme applications of force crush parts of the vertebral body. In a burst fracture, the break (or breaks) occurs in more than one place. In addition, the crushed vertebrae can lead to bony fragments that pierce the spinal cord. This can lead to additional injuries, such as nerve problems.
- Spinal Compression Fracture (SCF): (SCFs) are most common in patients who have weakened bones or osteoporosis. Degenerative diseases such as bone cancer can cause weakened bones. Bones can crack under stress if there is a sudden force or large amounts of pressure are applied to the spinal column. In such cases, the bones simply can’t handle the stress. (SCFs) are not as severe as burst fractures.
- Wedge Fracture: Wedge fractures are a subcategory of (SCFs). With this condition, part of the vertebrae (usually the front) collapses under pressure and becomes wedge-shaped.
- Flexion-Distraction Fractures (FDF): Also common in car accidents, (FDFs) occur when the spine is suddenly flexed forward. If this happens too suddenly and with too much force, it may break one or more vertebrae. These fractures usually occur in the posterior middle column.
- Fracture-Dislocation (FD): This type of fracture can occur along with any of the above fractures. (FDs) happen when the vertebrae move significantly in addition to being fractured. Usually, an (FD) occurs in all three columns and makes the spine very unstable.
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What are the Symptoms of a Spinal Fracture?
Naturally, the most common symptom of a spinal fracture is back pain. This pain may start off as mild and worsen over time. Sometimes, the pain can also come on very suddenly and sharply. Generally, most doctors will suspect vertebral compression fractures in any patient older than 50 years of age. This is especially true if said patient has an acute onset of back pain. In women, the suspected age is lower at only 45, provided there is a sudden onset of back pain. In some cases, an (SF) may not cause back pain or any other symptoms. As a result, middle-aged patients with no back complaints should still be wary of potential fractures. Sometimes, a spinal fracture will cause height loss, limited mobility, and deformities instead of pain.
Main symptoms of (SFs) include one or more of the following:
- Pain: Patients should be especially concerned if pain gets worse while standing or walking, but is relieved from lying down.
- Neurological Symptoms: Bone shards from fractures can compress the spinal cord or nerves. This can lead to feelings of numbness or tingling in the arms and legs.
- Limited Mobility: Patients with an (SF) typically report trouble with bending or twisting their bodies.
- Deformity & Disability: (SFs) can cause the spine to take on a curved or stooped shape, known as kyphosis. This can give off an appearance of constant slouching. Height loss is also commonly reported.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, contact our spine specialists at New York City Spine. Dr. Frazier and his devoted team of spine experts work tirelessly to provide their patients with personalized treatment plans. From sophisticated surgical solutions to highly accurate diagnostics, you can count on receiving optimal treatment and a quick recovery.
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What are the Treatments for a Spinal Fracture?
(SF) treatment begins with stabilization and pain management to prevent further injury. In some cases, other bodily injuries may be present and will need to be treated as well (most commonly, in the chest). Depending on the type and severity of the (SF), surgery and/or bracing may be necessary. Most people with (SCFs) do not need surgery. In such cases, custom back braces and light exercise are suggested first. Pain medication (usually NSAIDs) are often used to make the healing process much more manageable.
These are surgical procedures used to treat unstable (SFs). In fusion, two vertebrae are joined with a bone graft and are held together with hardware. The hardware typically includes a combination of rods, plates, hooks, cages, and pedicle screws. Bone grafts are used to join the vertebrae above and below to form a solid piece of bone. In some cases, a fusion may take several months or more to become solid.
Most commonly used for fractures caused by osteoporosis and tumors, this minimally invasive procedure treats compression. The former involves injecting bone cement through a hollow needle into the problem area. In the latter, a balloon is inserted and inflated to expand the compressed areas. Bone cement then fills the space after the area has expanded.
Orthotics & Braces
These maintain the spinal alignment through immobilization. By restricting movement, the spine can heal properly and pain becomes more manageable. Stable (SFs) may only require a brace, which is used for around 8 to 12 weeks. Brace removal occurs once this period of time has passed. Unstable (SFs), such as with the neck or dislocations, may require traction for realignment. A vest brace and halo ring are sometimes used in such cases.
If you think you may have an (SF), schedule an appointment with New York City Spine today. Our staff is happy to help with your general concerns, scheduling, insurance, and anything else that you may need. To schedule a visit, please contact one of our patient advocates or request an appointment online. We accept and file most insurance plans. Please call us to find out if we are participating with your health insurance provider.
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Dr. Frazier is a Harvard-trained, board certified orthopedic spine surgeon. He’s held an academic appointment at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York’s SUNY Downstate. Dr. Frazier is also a respected lecturer, accomplished researcher, published author on spine disorders and treatment, and a consultant for several international spine companies.
After completing his undergraduate education at Brown University, Dr. Frazier attended Harvard Medical School, where he graduated cum laude. He completed a Harvard internship based at the New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, MA, followed by a Harvard combined residency before becoming chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Education & Training
MD / cum Laude, Boston MA
Harvard Medical School
Residency, Boston MA
Harvard Combined Orthopedic Residency
Chief Residency, Boston MA
Harvard Mass. General Hospital
Spinal Deformity Fellowship, Miami FL
Doctor's Hospital, Shufflebarger Fellowship
Academic Appointments, NY, NY
Columbia University; SUNY Downstate
Nuvasive, Depuy & Stryker International Spine Cos.