Spinal (Vertebral) Fractures
The spine is made up of 33 bones called vertebrae stacked one on top of another to form the spinal column. A broken vertebra is called a “spinal fracture.” Since the spine consists of three major segments, cervical, thoracic and lumbar, spinal fractures are often classified according to the segment where the fractured vertebra occurs. For example, if any part of the seventh cervical vertebra in the neck is broken, the fracture falls into the category of “cervical spinal fractures.” In addition, spinal fractures are classified by the type of fracture a person sustains, such as compression; burst compression; extension; rotation; and fracture-dislocation.
In the United States, 750,000 spinal fractures occur annually. Forty-five percent (45%) of spinal fractures come from the extreme forces placed on the spine from car, truck and motorcycle accidents. Another 20% of spinal fractures come from falls; 15% from sports injuries; and 15% from acts of violence.
Cervical Spinal Fractures
Cervical spinal fractures in the neck can result in catastrophic injuries to the spinal cord. For example, a “hangman’s fracture” results from a serious fracture of the second cervical vertebra, C2. It is often fatal.
A serious complication of a cervical spinal fracture is traumatic injury to the vertebral artery. The vertebral artery “snakes-up” through openings of the cervical vertebrae to supply blood to the brain. Because the vertebral artery passes through each cervical vertebra, the vertebral artery can be injured by the same forces that break a cervical vertebra. Medical journals, such as the April, 1999 The Journal of Trauma, at page 660, reports, “The incidence of vertebral artery injury in closed cervical spine trauma is significant.”
The majority of spinal fractures from car, truck and motorcycle accidents occur in the thoracic (mid-back) and lumbar (low back) regions of the spine.
Extensive fractures of a lumbar vertebra in the low back can result in compression of the nerves coming off the lower end of the spinal cord resulting in a medical emergency called “cauda equina syndrome.” To learn more about this condition, click “cauda equina syndrome.”
High energy forces are necessary to fracture a thoracic or lumbar vertebrae. As a result, a victim of a motor vehicle accident with a thoracic or lumbar spinal fracture often suffers other significant injuries as well.
Richard suffered a wedge compression fracture of his L4 vertebra in his low back after a Fairfax Virginia auto accident.
Spinal compression fractures are often seen following car, truck and motorcycle accidents. The forces from major vehicle crashes often cause an occupant’s vertebrae to collapse. A spinal compression fracture causes the vertebrae to appear wedged-shaped on x-ray because the front of the vertebra loses more height than the back. Cervical compression fractures cause neck pain; thoracic compression fractures cause mid-back pain; and lumbar compression fractures cause low back pain. When the spinal cord is injured as a result of the compression fracture, the patient will experience numbness and tingling in his extremities, as well as weakness and bowel/bladder control difficulties.
Linda was stopped at a red light when she was rear-ended by a truck in a Loudoun, Virginia car accident. She was admitted to the Loudoun Hospital with multiple burst compression fractures of her thoracic spine.
A burst compression fracture is one of the most serious types of spinal fracture. They are caused by high energy forces, such as in a motor vehicle collision. The vertebra literally bursts by the force of impact and is crushed in many directions. Bony fragments of the crushed vertebrae can injure the spinal cord itself or the spinal nerve roots causing paralysis or nerve damage with radiating pain down the arm or leg.
A spinal fracture - dislocation is very serious and results in an unstable spine. Two injuries occur with a fracture - dislocation: (1) a broken vertebra; and (2) a torn spinal ligament.
Spinal ligaments are strong bands that hold the vertebrae together and keep the spine stable. Vertebrae are stacked one on top of another to form the spinal column, also called the “spine.” Inside the spinal column is the spinal cord. With a spinal fracture-dislocation, one vertebra slips off the vertebra next to it resulting in spinal instability. Because the stacked vertebrae surround the spinal cord inside, spinal fracture-dislocation injuries can compress the spinal cord itself causing very serious injury.
Gerald Schwartz is a Virginia fracture lawyer. He has lectured across Virginia teaching personal injury lawyers how to handle fracture injury cases, including spinal fractures. Virginia accident attorney Gerald Schwartz has spent 30 years representing people who have suffered a spinal fracture injury in car, truck and motorcycle accidents. Gerald Schwartz has specialized knowledge of the spine and is the author of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association publication, Primer of Neck and Back Injuries For Attorneys and Staff, now in its third edition.