What is a Spinal Fracture?
As we get older, Osteoporosis causes bones to thin and makes them more susceptible to fractures. Fractures caused by osteoporosis most frequently occur in the spine. Vertebrae, the bones of the spine, may start to crack If stressed far enough. This causes intense pain, loss of strength, and in extreme cases, loss of sensation.
Causes of Spinal Fractures
The most common cause of a Spinal Fracture includes physical trauma and sports injuries, which usually stem from a specific point of impact. Car accidents highly contribute to the rates of Spinal Fracture for this reason. Since the bones in the human body also weaken with age, older patients with osteoporosis can even receive spine fractures from small incidents such as falling down at home.
Types of Spinal Fractures
A “compression” fracture will almost always occur in the Lumbar Spine, or lower back, and causes pain that gradually increases the more patients move, most often when changing sitting or sleeping positions. Spinal Fractures typically fall into 3 different categories:
- Wedge Fractures: The most common form of Spinal Fracture. Wedge Fractures occur when the back of the vertebra remains intact while the front of the vertebra collapses. While wedge fractures tend to cause less pain, they may still eventually lead to deformities such as a hunchback.
- Crush Fractures: A crush fracture occurs when both the front and the back of the vertebrae cracks and collapses. These fractures tend to cause more pain than a wedge fracture, and often adds more pressure onto the spinal cord.
- Burst Fracture: Burst Fractures include the most severe form of injury to the spine. Similar to Crush Fractures, where both sides of the vertebrae collapse, but with pieces of the shattered bone pushing outwards into the tissue that surrounds the spinal cord. Burst Fractures cause the most severe pain and patients may experience loss of sensation, and lose control of the legs, bladder or bowels. Brain and spine specialists urge patients to seek immediate medical attention if they suffer these symptoms.
How Do Neurosurgeons Treat Spinal Fractures?
Conservative Treatments for Spinal Fractures
Specialists will first examine the patient to determine the severity of the injury. The physician may order X Rays, MRI scans or CT scans to pinpoint the exact area of the damage. If a Neurosurgeon determines that the spinal fracture can heal with conservative treatment, they may prescribe some pain medications and order the patient to rest for 6 – 8 weeks to heal. If physicians determine Osteoporosis as greatly contributing to the injury, they may also start treatment for loss of bone density.
Surgical Treatment for Spinal Fractures
If Spine specialists determine a Spinal Fracture requires surgical intervention, they may suggest undergoing a Kyphoplasty, or Vertebroplasty. Both arthroplastic and non-invasive, these surgeries require inserting a needle into the fractured vertebra and injecting the fracture with a medical-grade bone-cement. This cement fills the cracks of the bone, strengthening the vertebra once again.
Recovery From Spinal Fracture Surgery
Kyphoplasty usually does not require stitches, and patients may sometimes even leave the hospital as little as 1 hour after waking up from surgery. As a procedure with a track record of good patient outcomes, patients who receive a Kyphoplasty return to their daily activities extremely quickly.