Composition and function of the spine
The spine is the supportive pillar of the human body. It transfers the forces and loads of the head and torso to the pelvis and legs. That’s no easy task. While the thoracic and lumbar spine are designed more for stability and high forces, the cervical spine is fully built for movement. A spinal fracture can therefore have serious consequences.
The spine is more or less at the centre of the body and is covered at the back by strong muscles. The front sections – the vertebrae – are embedded in the soft tissue and organs of the neck as well as in the chest and stomach cavities. Using your vertebrae, the spine keeps your body upright. It bears the weight of the head, upper and lower body, and arms. It also protects our spinal cord which runs along the bony spinal canal of the spine.
Spinal Fracture Symptoms
Causes: how do fractures in the spinal region occur?
Thoracic and lumbar spine injuries
A fall or traffic accident can cause severe ribcage injuries. It can lead to thoracic spine fracture, but lumbar spine fracture in the lower back can also occur.
If the bones are already weakened due to osteoporosis, for example, even less severe falls may cause fractures. In extreme cases, the spine can even be fractured spontaneously.
Cervical spine injuries
Adults often injure themselves due to falls, for example, in motorbike or mountain bike accidents. Contact sports such as ice hockey and football also carry a high risk. You can even severely injure yourself while riding a horse or diving head-first into unchecked waters.
Infants and small children may sustain severe injuries to their cervical spine from car collisions or bumping into things head-on.
Even harmless falls may be enough to cause spinal fractures in the elderly. In addition, patients with Bekhterev’s disease have a greater risk of suffering from spinal fractures after falls.
Symptoms: signs of fracture
You should always consult a doctor if you have any pain in the spinal region after a fall or accident. If there is any nerve damage or even paralysis, this may indicate an unstable spinal fracture. Patients often report pain in the cervical spine and neck at rest and/or during movement. Misalignment or inclination of the head, or a feeling that the head can no longer support itself, are other signs of a cervical spine injury.
With osteoporosis, an accident isn’t even necessary for one or more vertebrae to be fractured, which can lead to considerable pain.
Diagnosis: how we visualise spinal fractures
If we suspect a spinal column injury, we carry out prudent physical examinations and check your nervous system function. We test pain points and establish whether the arms and legs have full motor function and sensitivity. But physical examinations can never fully rule out a cervical spine injury.
Diagnostics for thoracic and lumbar spine injuries
We first take x-ray images. If we find any signs of injury in these images, the suspected spinal column section will need to be clarified further through computed tomography (CT). Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), we can detect damages to your spinal column early, even if these were not evident in the CT.
Diagnostics for cervical spine injuries
We also carry out diagnostics on these injuries using x-rays, CT and/or MRI.
Spinal Fracture Treatment
Spinal fracture treatment – surgery isn’t always necessary
We generally treat milder injuries to the spinal column using conservative methods – in other words, without surgery. However, when an individual vertebra is displaced or destroyed, for example, this may cause nerve or spinal cord injuries in the worst cases. In these instances, surgical treatment is necessary to restore the stability, load-bearing capacity and shape of the spine as quickly as possible.
Conservative treatment methods
Thoracic or lumbar spine fracture: treatment without surgery
If we can rule out any future misalignment or nerve damages, we do not use surgery to treat injuries in the thoracic or lumbar spine region.
Cervical spine fracture: treatment without surgery
If the injury is stable, it is immobilised using a soft cervical collar for six weeks. In addition, we prescribe accompanying physiotherapy.
Surgical treatment methods
Cervical spine injury: surgical treatment
Unstable fractures need to be operated on to prevent vertebrae displacing one another and potentially damaging the spinal cord. The damaged segments are fixed in place with screws or plates to eliminate further injuries to your spinal cord. For unstable injuries to the lower cervical spine, we remove the damaged discs and broken parts of the spine. We replace these with either pieces of bone from endogenous or foreign sources, or a titanium or plastic vertebral body. A titanium plate in the spinal column also improves stability. Fractures of the upper cervical spine are fixed using screws. After surgical stabilisation, you will need to wear a soft cervical collar as a temporary support. In case of poor bone health, this will need to be prescribed for six to twelve weeks.
Thoracic or lumbar spine fracture: surgical treatment
Around 80% of the load on our spine is carried by our frontal vertebrae. If an injury causes one or more vertebrae to be destroyed, these will need to be rebuilt through surgery. Thanks to modern spinal surgery methods, we can now correct and stabilise even the most severe injuries so that you can quickly become mobile and your spine can bear weight again.
Endoscopic methods relieve the spinal column
We carry out spinal column surgery using thoracoscopic surgical methods, meaning that only very small skin incisions are required. Our specialists use a special navigation system to operate with precision. We remove the broken spinal column pieces and torn discs. We then replace them with a titanium cage filled with endogenous bone substance, or with pieces of bone. A titanium plate is screwed onto the spinal column to further improve stability. Thanks to the small incisions, you’ll feel very little pain after the procedure. You’ll recover quicker and be mobile earlier. After a few months, the scars will barely be visible.
Spinal fracture surgery: recovery time
The recovery time after surgery depends on the injury. A stable spinal fracture may heal in six to twelve weeks. Depending on the amount of pain, patients can sometimes stand up again immediately after. For unstable fractures, the recovery time is dependent on many different factors. It varies from patient to patient. We will guide you through the full treatment process and help you achieve a speedy recovery.