If a vertebra is crushed in all directions, it is referred to as a burst fracture. The shattered fragments may damage the surrounding tissues, including possibly the spinal cord.
Burst fractures are considered much more severe than compression fractures. Because they threaten the spinal cord, they can cause injury to the nerves or even paralysis.
Symptoms of a Burst Fracture
- Pain in that back that gets worse when moving
- Numbness, tingling and weakness
- Bowel and bladder problems (indicating spinal cord involvement)
Diagnosis of a Burst Fracture
A burst fracture is usually diagnosed by x-rays and a CAT scan. Sometimes a doctor will also order an MRI scan to check for soft tissue trauma, ligament damage, or bleeding. The CAT scan and x-rays allows the doctor to see the degree of spinal canal compromise and spinal angulation.
A neurologic exam should be performed to test muscle strength, sensation and reflexes in the lower extremities, and bowel and bladder sphincter control.
Nonsurgical Treatment of Burst Fractures
Some burst fractures—those in which there is not nerve damage or spinal cord involvement— can be treated with a brace for 6 to 12 weeks, followed by physical therapy.
Surgical Treatment of Burst Fractures
For more serious unstable burst fractures with significant comminution (fracture fragments), surgery is usually necessary. These are conditions that indicate the need for surgery:
- Noticeable loss of vertebral body height
- Forward bending or angulation greater than 20 percent at the location of the fracture
- Nerve injury caused by part of the vertebra or disc pinching the spinal cord
These burst fractures are treated by surgically decompressing the spinal canal by removing the bone or other structures pressing on the spinal cord and then stabilizing the fracture.
Recovery from a Burst Fracture
If surgery is not needed, you should expect to spend one or two days in the hospital, during which time the brace will be fit. X-rays are then taken in a standing position to determine if the spine is stable in the brace. Narcotic pain medication is usually continued for three to four weeks, followed by non-narcotic medications.
The brace is removed at eight to ten weeks and physical therapy is begun physical therapy to restore strength.
Surgery for a burst fracture usually requires three to five days in the hospital. After the surgery, when the incisions have begun to heal, you will usually be fit with a brace. Walking is usually encouraged within one or two days of surgery with the assistance of a physical therapist.
Outcomes vary, depending of the degree of neurological damage caused by the accident. Some patients recover completely, while others will always have neurological deficits that can be life-changing.
How to Make a Claim to Recover Damages from a Burst Fracture from a Car Accident
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