Thoracic Spine Fractures – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: May 25, 2017

Thoracic Spine Fractures

If you watched NASCAR last week or caught the highlights on ESPN, you probably saw the big crash that happened at Kansas Motor Speedway. The high speed collision left driver Aric Almirola with a compression fracture in his T5 vertebra, and mechanics needed to cut open his vehicle so that paramedics could tend to him. Almirola was airlifted to a local hospital and is expected to make a full recovery, but we thought now would be a good time to explain what happens during a thoracic spine compression fracture, and talk about Almirola’s treatment options.

Causes and Symptoms of Thoracic Compression Fractures

Obviously Almirola’s cause of injury was acute trauma to the back during the crash, but excessive force isn’t the only common cause of a compression fracture. In older adults, osteoporosis can weaken the vertebrae and lead to a fracture during minor or mild trauma. Fractures can also develop if excessive pressure builds up in the area. Aside from car accidents, hard falls from a height are another common cause of trauma-induced thoracic spinal fractures.

Compression fractures are more common in the bottom part of the thoracic spine or at the top of the lumbar spine, but they can occur at any level depending on how the trauma is displaced on our spine. When a compression fracture occurs, the most common symptom is pain, but other symptoms include:

  • Spinal weakness
  • Numbness
  • Limited mobility

Individuals who suffer an acute trauma-related compression fracture usually know that there is a problem with their spine right away, but for others who may be experiencing the earlier stages of an osteoporosis-related spinal fracture, pain may not set in until the bone actually breaks.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Thoracic Spinal Fractures

The diagnosis of a thoracic spine compression fracture is a pretty straightforward process. Your doctor will begin by asking about your family history, looking at your medical information and conducting a physical examine. This process allows them to understand if osteoporosis likely played a role and if bone density treatment should also take place in conjunction with fracture treatment.

If a fracture is suspected, the doctor will likely confirm the diagnosis with the assistance of an x-ray. They may also conduct neurological exams in order to see if any nerve damage has occurred.

Treating a thoracic spinal fracture involves a lot of conservative care and monitoring. In most cases, the patient is given pain medications and asked to decrease physical activity while the bone heals. You may also be given a back brace to limit movement, which will help healing occur.

Twin Cities Spine Doctor

Surgery is rarely needed to treat a compression fracture so long as healing is going as planned and there is no threat to nearby structures or nerves. Another reason why surgery may be considered is because the fracture was so damaging that it led to more than a 50 percent loss in vertebral height. In the rare cases where this occurs, doctors may choose to operate to maintain spinal stability and prevent nerve damage that could occur due to a significant loss in disc height.

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