Spinal fractures vary in severity; although some fractures are serious injuries requiring emergency treatment, others are the result of bones weakened by osteoporosis. Most spinal fractures occur in the thoracic and lumbar spine (the mid-back and lower back) but treatment depends on the severity of the fracture and whether the patient has other injuries.
Fractures of the thoracic and lumbar spine can result from trauma, such as a car crash, fall, sports injury or violent act like a gunshot wound. These patients usually have additional serious injuries that require quick treatment
Spinal fractures can also be caused by bone deficiency like osteoporosis. These underlying conditions that weaken the bone can fracture a vertebra even during low-impact activities. These fractures may develop unnoticed with no symptoms until a bone breaks.
Symptoms vary patient-to-patient, but, in general, a fracture of the thoracic or lumbar spine causes moderate to severe back pain, which is worsened by movement. If the spinal cord is involved patients may experience dysfunction of the bowel/bladder as well as numbness, tingling or weakness in the limbs.
If the fracture is caused by high-energy trauma – such as a car crash or sports injury – patient may also have a brain injury and lose consciousness. Other distracting injuries may overwhelm the back pain, and it must be assumed that the patient has a fracture of the spine and the patient will be immobilized in a cervical collar and backboard.
Treatment for a fracture of the lumbar or thoracic spine will depend on the fracture pattern as well as the other injuries involved with their treatment. Once doctors stabilize other life-threatening injuries in a trauma situation they will evaluate the spinal fracture and decide whether or not surgery is needed.