What is a Broken Back

By Jared Ernest, MPT

A broken back can be caused by different factors.

Image of Possible Pain from a Broken Back

What is a Broken Back?

People often ask, “What is a broken back”? Basically, a broken back is a laymen’s term for a spinal fracture. A spinal fracture is a break in the bones of the spine that are called vertebrae. Vertebrae are bones that are stacked on each other and make up your spinal column. This stack of vertebrae starts at your neck and runs to your tail bone to form the structure of your spine.

What are the common causes?

  • Falls (#1 cause).
  • Traumatic injury/car accident.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Spinal Tumors.

What are some other factors that are risks for spinal fractures?

  • Bacterial/fungal infections.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Cancer.
  • Obesity.

What should I feel if I think I have a broken back?

  • Intense pain at the place of your spine where the fracture is at. The pain would be very isolated at about the size of your thumb.
  • Increased pain when you move to include bending and twisting your spine.
  • Numbness decreased reflexes, and weakness may be present as the nerve may also be injured at the fracture area.

What are the types?

Compression fractures

  • Common with osteoporosis and bone cancer
  • This occurs with a sudden force with the increased pressure that overstresses the bone.

Wedge Fracture

  • It usually occurs in front of vertebrae that collapses under pressure and takes on a wedge’s shape.

Burst Fracture

  • Caused by severe trauma such as a car accident
  • Vertebrae are crushed by extreme force.
  • Vertebrae fractures in multiple places.
  • It can lead to spinal cord injury secondary to bone fragments.

Flexion/distraction Fracture

  • Usually, the result of a car accident.
  • Sudden, high-intensity forward movement with an increased stress-causing fracture.

Fracture/Dislocation

  • A combination of fracture and the bones of the spine move significantly.
  • It makes the spine very unstable.

Stable Fracture

  • No deformity or nerve problems
  • Able to carry weight load of spine w/o issue.

Unstable Fracture

  • May lead to spinal deformity and an increased chance of getting worse.
  • Difficult to carry weight load of spine.

How is a broken back confirmed?

First, a complete history is taken to identify possible injury or factors that may have lead to a broken back.
X-ray is still the primary method to see if a fracture exists. Also, a CT scan and MRI may be performed.
Physical exam to include palpation of the spine. Also, tests to determine any spinal cord or nerve damage such as reflexes and muscle testing.

Do I need surgery to fix a broken back?

In some cases, surgery may be required to allow healing of the fractured area. Depending on the type of fracture will dictate what type of procedure that may be performed.

Issues with compression fractures are usually addressed with the following:

Vertebroplasty

  • The catheter is guided to the fracture site, and special bone cement is injected into the fracture site.

Kyphoplasty

  • A small incision is made at the fracture site, and a balloon is placed and inflated to create a space. Next, bone cement is used to fill in this space and even out the spine’s height.

Procedures for more involved broken back fractures:

Corpectomy

  • Surgical removal of all or part of the vertebrae. Next, the removed bone is replaced with plates or screws.

Spinal fusion

  • Plates and screws are used to join two or more spinal bones into one. Usually, flexibility and ROM are reduced after this procedure.

Can Physical Therapy help my Injured Back?

Regardless if you have surgery or not, physical therapy is imperative for your recovery from a broken back. Therapy helps rebuild the muscles that will support and stabilize your spine and restore maximal mobility at the spine. Most importantly, the correct movement and posture education will limit the negative force on the spine.

How long is Recovery after a Back Injury?

In most cases, not requiring surgical intervention, the time frame for recovery is about 8-10 weeks. This time frame usually involves rest, use of a brace, and pain medication. Surgical intervention s can vary for recovery times but may be up to 12 to 14 months to reach your maximum potential.

Where Can I Get Treatment for my Back?

JOI has a team of experts to help with your back problems.  Our Spine Team includes:

  • Orthopedic Spine Surgeons
  • Non-Surgical Spine Physicians
  • Spine Physical Therapists
  • Acupuncturists
  • Massage Therapists

Our team of Spine Experts collaborate to make sure that you receive comprehensive and complete care.

To learn about the JOI Rehab Spine Centers, go to this LINK.

To make an appointment, call JOI-2000 or schedule online by clicking the button below.

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By: Jared Ernest, MPT


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