Types of Spinal Injuries
Dealing with unexpected injuries is never fun. This is doubly true for spinal injuries, which can occur in car accidents, high-impact sports, or after falling, and are often complex and can potentially lead to other debilitating conditions. Here is some information about a few of the most frequently occurring spinal injuries.
Whiplash is a hyperextension of the neck. It frequently occurs in car accidents where the head is suddenly and forcefully thrown back, causing the neck muscles and ligaments to stretch beyond their limit and tear. Spinal disc injuries may also result from whiplash.
Spinal discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, and feature a soft, gel-like center with a tougher outer shell, almost like a jelly-filled donut. When accidents happen, the center of the disc can be forced out in one direction and potentially put pressure on the spinal cord or surrounding nerves.
Fractures and Dislocations
Spinal injuries like fractures and dislocations require prompt medical attention. The sooner the injury is diagnosed, the sooner the spine can be stabilized and proper treatment can begin. If left untreated or incorrectly addressed, irreversible damage to the spinal cord can occur.
Below is a list of common types of spinal fractures and dislocations:
- Compression Fractures – Usually caused by a fall, compression fractures are the most common type of fracture affecting the lower back. The good news is most compression fractures can be effectively treated with nonsurgical therapies such as bed rest and physical therapy. A doctor may also give a physical and neurological exam to check for osteoporosis and malignancies, since these conditions may lead to compression fractures.
- Burst Fractures – These can occur after a violent accident where the vertebrae are compressed and their height is significantly decreased. This is considered to be an unstable fracture and it requires immediate medical attention.
- Flexion/Compression Fractures – These fractures occur when the front of the vertebrae are compressed but the back keep most of their height.
- Flexion/Distraction Fractures – Also known as a chance fracture, these spinal injuries occur when a vertebra is literally pulled apart. They can occur during car accidents when the upper body is thrown forward while the waist remains secured in a seat belt.
- Dislocations – Fracture dislocations occur when the injury results in significant spinal instability. They may lead to neurological injury.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Did you know that 500,000 spinal cord injuries occur every year from accidents? These injuries happen when the cord itself is crushed, torn, or stretched. Unfortunately, they cannot be reversed or fully treated. The majority of spinal cord injuries take place in the cervical spine (the neck), and occur in young men. There are many research efforts underway to improve the way these injuries are prevented, diagnosed, and treated.
If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal injury, be sure to consult a doctor who has specialized training in orthopedics. With the right care, many patients can recover from their spinal injuries and return to the activities they enjoy.
Florida Medical Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine & Spine is proud to serve families in Tampa and Wesley Chapel, Florida.