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Can a spinal fracture cause paralysis?

Spinal cord is an important part of the human body. It acts as an important pathway for communication between the brain and the rest of the body. It is a bundle of nerves that is present within the protective bony column of the vertebrae. When there is an injury to the spinal cord it can disrupt the communication, and leads to several spinal fracture complications.

What is a spinal fracture?

A spinal fracture is, as the name suggests, a break in one or more spine bones. Vertebrae may break or collapse as a result of this. It’s not necessary for the bone to break in two. Spinal fractures result from trauma such as accidents, diving improperly, unexpected falls, or sports-related injuries.

What are the medical conditions that might cause a spinal fracture?

The weakening of the bones can result from osteoporosis caused by age, cancer, or a lack of hormone. Sneezing or coughing in certain situations can trigger a break. Every year, millions of patients experience spinal fractures, with reports of vertebral compression fractions being the most common. In contrast, the frequency of spinal fractures is approximately twice that of hip fractures.

What are the types of spinal fractures?

There are majorly four types of spinal fractures that include,

  • Compression fractures:

This fracture is commonly reported in patients with osteoporosis, cancers of the bone, and in patients undergoing radiation or chemotherapy. Even a simple force can lead to spinal fractures.

  • Burst fractures:

This kind of fracture occurs when there is a sudden and impactful force to the spinal cord especially in case of a car accident.

  • Flexion-distraction fractures:

This happens when the body is abruptly moved forward, as in an accident or a sudden stop.  The spinal bones or vertebrae can fracture depending on the force.

  • Fracture-dislocation:

When a vertebrae is fractured enough from front to back to allow it to move side to side or back and forth, it causes a fracture-dislocation, which can cause  a very unstable situation.

What are the symptoms of a spinal fracture?

There are several symptoms that help indicate a spinal fracture, they include:

  • Trouble in walking
  • Weakness in the legs
  • bladder/bowel problems
  • Shooting pain from arms to legs
  • Numbness in arms or legs

How does a spinal fracture cause paralysis?

The spinal cord transmits nerve signals from the brain to control muscle movement and receive sensory information. When a fracture occurs, several factors can contribute to paralysis:

Direct damage:

Bone fragments from the fracture may directly compress or sever the nerve fibers in the spinal cord. This immediate damage leads to paralysis in the areas controlled by the affected nerves.

Bleeding and inflammation:

A fracture can cause inflammation within the spinal canal, putting pressure on the cord and further compromising the nerve function. Additionally, inflammation triggered by the injury can damage surrounding nerves.

Disc herniation:

Fractures sometimes cause the discs cushioning the vertebrae to bulge or rupture. These herniated discs can affect the spinal cord, disrupting the spinal cord.

The severity of paralysis depends on the location and extent of the damage to the spinal cord. It is important to reach out to the best ortho doctor in Coimbatore immediately after you experience a spinal injury to avoid major complications.

What is the location of the fracture and paralysis risk?

The vertebrae are segmented into cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), lumbar (lower back), and sacral (tailbone) regions. The higher the fracture occurs on the spinal cord, the greater the potential for paralysis and the wider the area affected.

Cervical fractures:

These can cause tetraplegia, paralysis affecting all four limbs, trunk, and respiratory muscles. Depending on the specific level of the injury, paralysis may be complete or incomplete.

Thoracic fractures:

Fractures in the thoracic spine often result in paraplegia, paralysis affecting both legs and the lower abdominal area. Some people may also experience weakness or paralysis in the abdominal muscles.

Lumbar fractures:

Lumbar fractures can cause paraplegia, although the level of paralysis may be less extensive compared to thoracic fractures.

Sacral fractures:

Sacral fractures rarely cause complete paralysis, but they can lead to weakness, pain, and bowel or bladder dysfunction.

What are the types of paralysis caused by spinal fractures?

Spinal fractures can cause different types of paralysis depending on the extent of nerve damage:

Complete paralysis:

This refers to a total loss of movement and sensation below the level of the injury.

Incomplete paralysis:

In this case, some movement and sensation remain, although they may be weak or affected. There are different types of incomplete paralysis based on the specific pattern of muscle weakness.

Spastic paralysis:

This type of paralysis involves involuntary muscle contractions and stiffness, often making movement difficult and causing pain.

What are the treatment options for spinal fractures and paralysis?

The primary goal of treatment for a spinal fracture with paralysis is to prevent further damage and maximize potential recovery. This may involve:

Immobilization:

Using a brace or a cast to stabilize the spine and prevent further injury to the spinal cord.

Surgery:

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to realign the fractured vertebrae, remove bone fragments that are compressing the spinal cord, or stabilize the spine with implants.

Medications:

Certain medications can be recommended that help in reducing inflammation and swelling around the spinal cord.

Rehabilitation:

Physical and occupational therapy play an important role in helping individuals regain movement and strength.

The extent of recovery from paralysis depends on the severity of the spinal cord injury. Some people with incomplete paralysis may experience significant improvement with rehabilitation, while others may require ongoing assistance with daily activities.

Important Takeaway:

The prognosis for recovery from paralysis caused by a spinal fracture varies greatly depending on the individual and the specifics of their injury. People with complete paralysis face a more challenging recovery path compared to those with incomplete injuries. Early diagnosis and treatment are important for maximizing recovery potential. Reach out to the best ortho hospital in Coimbatore in case you recently had an injury and suspect a spinal injury.

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