The spinal is a vertical column comprised of 33 small bones which are also known as the vertebrae (vertebra in singular). The entire length of the spine or the spinal column is sectioned off by location as follows: the cervical vertebrae include the neck area (C1 through C7 plus T1); the thoracic vertebrae include the upper back (T1 through T12); the lumbar vertebrae include the mid back region (L1 through L5); the sacrum vertebrae (S1 through S5) and the coccygeal vertebrae (CO1 through CO5) include the lower back and the tailbone.
A spinal fracture is a serious medical condition in which the bones of the spine which are also known as vertebrae crack, splinter, collapse or break.
There are many factors which can potentially lead to a spinal fracture and they are classified as traumas, a wide variety of physiological conditions and deficiencies:
Traumas that may result in a spinal fracture include car and motorcycle crashes, workplace injuries, sports mishaps, falls, gunshot or knife wounds, war injuries and many others.
Physiological conditions that may lead to a spinal fracture include a variety of tumors such as ependymomas, astrocytomas, and metastatic cancer as well as neurodegenerative diseases such as Friedreich’s ataxia, Sinocerebellar ataxia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Lou Gehrig’s Disease and many others.
Mineral deficiencies due to malnutrition or the body’s failure to absorb or assimilate essential minerals as well as decreased production of various hormones may all lead to weakening of the bones and thus the propensity to spinal fractures. The most common culprit in this category is osteoporosis which causes the bones to lose mineral (mostly calcium) density and thus they become so weak and brittle that even a slight movement may result in a fracture.
For the most part, a spinal fracture damages the white matter (myelinated fiber tracts) that transports signals to the brain and from it, and this condition is also known as myelopathy. The central or the innermost grey matter of the spine may also become damaged due to a spinal fracture and this may cause disruption and inconsistency of interneurons and motorneurons.
Classifications of Spinal Fractures
To standardize diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of spinal fractures as well as other types of spinal injuries, the American Spinal Cord Injury Association (ASIA) and the International Spinal Cord Injury Classification System (ISCICS) classify them as “complete,” “incomplete” or “normal.” And such classifications are based on the preserved motor or sensory functions of the injured individual.
A “complete” spinal fracture or injury results in complete loss of movement and sensation to all body part which are below the spinal fracture or injury, including extremities as well as internal organs such as the lungs, the bladder, the colon and so on. Complete spinal fractures or injuries result in permanent and irreversible paralysis. An “incomplete” spinal fracture or injury retains some sensory or motor functions and it may, in many instances, be reversed or the injured site may recover. A spinal fracture or injury that is classified as “normal” indicates that the fracture or the injury did not affect the normal sensory or motor functions.
To determine preserved motor or sensory functions, simple touch and pinprick tests are applied to the ten major muscles and their neurological points on either side of the body and those include the shoulders, the elbows, the wrists, the hips, the knees, the ankles and so on.
Treatments for Spinal Fractures
The most common means by which a spinal fracture or injury may be treated are:
- a) Administration of methylprednisolone in mega high doses within 8 hours of the injury.
- b) Cold saline is injected during the first few hours of the injury.
- c) Stem cell transplants or cell replacement therapies.
- d) Electro stimulants.
- e) Physical therapy, acupuncture, acupressure, physical therapy, massage treatments and occupational therapy.
- f) Other bothersome symptoms such as pain and swelling due to inflammations may require anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers