Causes and Treatments for Spine Fractures

What causes spine fractures?

Studies have found that a majority of spine fractures are caused by auto accidents, following by participation in sports as well as diseases such as osteoporosis and spine tumors.

The majority of people that suffer spine fractures are within the ages of 18-25, with males enduring such an injury far more than females.

The best way to diagnose a spine fracture is by x-rays to view the bony structures and vertebrae in the spine. Often, flexion and extension x-rays are used to determine any abnormal movement within the spine which may indicate a fracture.

Another diagnostic tool is a Computed Tomography (CT) scan which is safe and relatively noninvasive. This type of test uses an x-ray beam and a computer to provide two dimensional images of the spine. It may or may not be performed with a contrast agent (a dye) that is injected into the bloodstream.

Another type of diagnostic tool is a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan. This type of test is also generally noninvasive and uses radiofrequency waves and a magnetic field to provide a detailed view of the soft tissues surrounding the spine. MRI scans are different from x-ray in that an MRI scan will show nerves and discs within the spine. MRI scans may or may not include a contrasting agent, known as a dye, injected into the bloodstream. Physicians frequently use MRIs for evaluating soft tissue damage to discs and ligaments, as well as determining a spinal cord injury.

What types of treatments are available?

Pain management and stabilization are crucial in order to prevent further injury.

Braces and Orthotics are helpful because they maintain spinal alignment, immobilize the spine during healing, and control pain by reducing movement. An unstable cervical (neck) fracture or dislocation may require traction to correctly realign the spine. Often times a vest brace and halo ring may be necessary.

Fusion and instrumentation are common surgical procedures to treat unstable fractures. Fusion is the combining of two vertebrae with a bone graft held together with hardware such as plates, rods, hooks, pedicle screws, or cages. The purpose of the bone graft is to join the vertebrae above and below to form one solid piece of bone.

Kyphoplasty and Vertebroplasty are minimally invasive procedures used to treat compression fractures commonly caused by osteoporosis and spinal tumors. With vertebroplasty, bone cement is injected through a hollow needle into the fractured vertebral body. With kyphoplasty, a balloon is first inserted and inflated to expand the compressed vertebra before filling the space with bone cement.

For more information:
Spine Universe
Spinal Cord Injury Association

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