Spinal Trauma and Fractures


Traumatic spine injuries affect relatively few people each year. But when they do occur, the results can feel devastating. Even though many heal without surgery, recovery may take months. This can make it difficult to care for yourself or your family.

If you're injured and think you've hurt your spine, you need to seek immediate medical care. The sooner you’re evaluated, the sooner you can begin treatment – and avoid serious complications.

About Your Spine

Your spine contains 33 interlocking bones called vertebrae. Each vertebra has a hole in the center, creating a long passage called the spinal canal.

Your spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that carries signals from your brain to the rest of your body. It runs through the spinal canal.

If any of your vertebrae are damaged by injury, they may pinch or tear your spinal cord. This can cause significant and sometimes life-threatening problems.

Understanding Spinal Fractures and Dislocations

A fracture is the medical term for a broken bone. To that end, a spinal fracture refers to one or more broken vertebrae.

A spinal dislocation occurs when one or more vertebrae are forced out of place. The misaligned bones can press against your spinal cord or cause spinal instability.

Spinal fractures and dislocations range from mild to severe, depending on how much force was applied to the vertebrae. They include:

  • Compression fractures occur when excessive downward pressure causes vertebrae to collapse or crack.
  • Burst fractures occur when one or more vertebrae are crushed into several pieces. During the “burst,” bone shards often enter the spinal canal.
  • Fracture-dislocations occur when vertebrae are both broken and popped out of alignment.

Most spinal fractures and dislocations are caused by traumatic events. These include car accidents, severe falls and sports injuries. Others occur in people whose bones are weakened by disease. People with osteoporosis are prone to compression fractures.

Symptoms of spinal fractures or dislocations vary, and may include:

  • Neck or back pain.
  • Pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms or legs.
  • Bladder or bowel problems.
  • Partial or complete paralysis.

Treatment for Spinal Fractures and Dislocations

We know that a traumatic spine injury can be a frightening experience. We’ll care for you quickly but thoroughly, and do everything we can to keep you calm and comfortable.

Your treatment plan will depend on several factors, including the severity of your injury. It may include:

  • Neck collars or back braces to keep your spine aligned and immobilized while you heal.
  • Surgery to repair or fuse fractured vertebrae, relieve pressure on compressed nerves or stabilize the spine.
  • Orthopedic rehabilitation to regain strength and mobility once you’ve healed.

Whether you receive care in one of Mercy’s emergency rooms or from one of our orthopedic specialists or neurosurgeons, you’ll find plenty of medical and emotional support. Even if your road to recovery is long, you can rest assured we’ll be with you every step of the way.

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