Spinal fractures can vary widely in severity. While some fractures are very serious and require emergency treatment, others can occur in bones weakened by osteoporosis.
Thoracic (Middle) and Lumbar (Lower Spine) Fractures:
Most spinal fractures occur in the thoracic (middle back) and lumbar spine (lower back) or at the connection of the two (thoracolumbar junction). Treatment depends on the severity of the fracture and whether the patient has other associated injuries. Thoracic and lumbar spine fractures may result from high-energy trauma, such as a:
· Car or motorcycle crash
· Fall from height
· Sports accident
· Violent act, such as a gunshot wound
Many times, these patients have additional serious injuries that require rapid treatment. The spinal cord may also be injured, depending on the severity of the fracture.
Spinal fractures may also be caused by bone insufficiency. For example, people with osteoporosis, tumors, or other underlying conditions that weaken the bone can fracture a vertebra even during low-impact activities, such as reaching or twisting. These fractures may develop unnoticed over a period of time, with no symptoms or discomfort until a bone breaks.
Cervical (Neck) Fractures:
The seven bones in the neck (cervical vertebrae) support the head, connecting it to the thoracic spine (upper/middle back). A fracture in one of these cervical vertebrae is often called a broken neck. Cervical fractures usually result from high-energy trauma, such as automobile crashes or falls, and athletes are also at risk. For example, a cervical fracture can occur when a:
· Football player “spears” an opponent with his head.
· Gymnast misses the high bar during a release move and falls.
· Diver strikes the bottom of a shallow pool.
Any injury to the vertebrae can have serious consequences because the spinal cord, the central nervous system’s connection between the brain and the body, runs through the center of the vertebrae. Damage to the spinal cord can result in temporary or permanent total paralysis from the neck down or death.