Treatment of Spinal Fractures

It is often a scary and confusing diagnosis if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a spinal fracture. In this article, we look at common types of spinal fractures and their treatments.

One of the most common spinal fracture is a compression fracture of the spinal column. This occurs in the vertebrae of the spine and can happen with a sudden force or a fall. It is most commonly seen in patients with low bone density (osteoporosis). A large majority of these fractures heal on their own with the help of a back brace and bed rest with appropriate treatment of the underlying osteoporosis. Other reasons for such fractures can be trauma or tumors. If there is a suspicion for a tumor, your spine specialist may perform a bone biopsy to examine pathology of the fracture. In some cases of compression fractures, the patients are in so much pain that they have to be hospitalized for pain control. After obtaining appropriate diagnostic tests (CT, MRI, x-rays, bone scans), the spine specialist may put some cement in the fractured bone to help speed up recovery (in a procedure called vertebroplasty) or restore the wedged fracture with a balloon and then put cement in it (kyphoplasty).

Another type of spinal fracture that is frequently seen in victims of automobile crashes is called a Burst Fracture. These fractures typically involve destruction of many aspects of the spinal column and can be unstable if left untreated. Depending on patients symptoms and diagnostic studies, these fractures may need surgery. The goal of an operation in this setting is to stabilize the spine and to relieve pressure on the spinal canal and nerve roots. There are now minimally invasive techniques that are used to stabilize these fractures. That results in a quick patient recovery, minimal loss of blood during the surgery and remarkably less pain.

Various types of cancers also have a risk of spreading to the spine causing a fracture. These types of fractures are referred to as pathological fractures. Depending on the typ of fracture and the source of the cancer cells, the treatment for these can range from non-operative treatment to complete removal of the cancer through surgery. Again, minimally invasive techniques have been very useful in this setting. By reducing the dissection of soft tissue needed to stabilize the fracture and through a smaller incision, minimally invasive techniques decrease the recovery time dramatically. This is important because this allows the patients to start chemo or radiation therapy quickly.

There are some types of cancers that are very sensitive to radiation and respond quickly to it. These remain a good target for radiation treatment even when they end up spreading to the spine. In those cases, a biopsy may be sufficient to establish the proper diagnosis followed by the appropriate radiation or chemo. Again, if a surgery is needed, the minimally invasive approach achieves all of the above objectives with minimal disruption of patient’s life.

Dr. Sharma is a board certified Neurosurgeon trained at Georgetown University. He specializes in minimally invasive approaches to the spine and lectures nationally as well as internationally on the development of new techniques of spinal treatment.

By , MD, FAANS, NC and FH
Dr. Sharma founded Virginia Spine Specialists, the leading spine care center in Northern Virginia with offices in Manassas and Fredericksburg. He specializes in minimally invasive solutions to problems of the entire spine. For an appointment with Dr. Sharma, call toll free 1-855-SPINE-FIX (1-855-774-6334).