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Spine Surgery Guide

Spinal Fractures Overview

Whether it is just a mild muscle strain or a paralyzing traumatic injury, there is a vast array of spinal cord injuries that one can experience. Caught right in the middle, in terms of severity, are spinal fractures and dislocations.

Spinal fractures and dislocations can result in the squeezing, compression, and tearing of the spinal cord. The kind of care necessary for treatment of a fracture is based on the class of fracture and its level of instability. Fractures can happen anywhere along the spine; 64 percent of those occur in the lower back region while just five to ten percent of them take place around the neck.
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Spinal fractures can be classified in many ways, but they generally fall into three categories:

  • Fractures - occur when a bone is under so much pressure that it cannot withstand it. A vertebral body compression fracture is the most common kind of spinal fracture. It happens when a vertical force comes down on the spinal column, causing vertebrae to shatter and crumble. If the point of impact is struck with enough force, bone chips may be thrust into the spinal canal in what is called a burst fracture.

    People who suffer from osteoporosis, tumors, and certain grades of cancer that make bone turn brittle are more likely to experience a vertebral compression fracture (VCF). This type of fracture can be identified by the V-shaped collapse of the vertebra. Numerous vertebral compression fractures can lead to kyphosis, a condition causing exaggerated curvature of the spine that contributes to the appearance of a hunch.

  • Dislocations - happen when ligaments and/or discs bonding two vertebrae together are yanked or torn. This may also force the bones out of alignment. For instance, dislocation takes place when a car comes to such an abrupt halt that the momentum of a passenger's upper body against the seat belt strapped at the waist pulls the vertebra apart and stretches the ligaments. A dislocated vertebra can result in instability and put strain on the spinal cord. A problem of this magnitude usually requires surgery to enhance stability or a brace.

  • Fracture-dislocations - a combination of the previous two examples in which bone is broken and ligaments are ruptured. A fracture of this sort tends to be unstable, crippling, and almost always requires an operation to repair.
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This information is not designed to replace a physician's independent judgment about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient.
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