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Spinal Trauma & Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Trauma

Spinal trauma involves a fracture of the bones or vertebrae that make up your spine. The spine consists of 33 vertebrae that protect your spinal cord, a column of nerves that connects your brain to the rest of your body. In some cases, an injury to your spine may damage the spinal cord inside the central canal formed by your vertebrae.

Nerves travel out from the spinal cord into nearly every part of your body, including the arms, legs, eyes and all of your organs, Nerves carry electrical signals sent from your brain that control voluntary and involuntary body functions. If the pathway is pinched or damaged, these signals are blocked and your body cannot function properly.

Spinal trauma impacts people of all ages and can cause back and neck pain, stiffness, or numbness. Young people often sustain complicated spinal injuries from activities such as motorcycle crashes, car accidents, diving into a pool or jumping on a trampoline. Older adults tend to suffer from spinal trauma that result from a fall or head injury. The bones of older adults can be more brittle from age or conditions such as osteoporosis, which makes it easier to fracture or break a bone during a fall.

The most common spinal trauma involves a fracture to the cervical spine as the result of a motor vehicle accident. In many cases, these injuries do not require surgery and can be treated with a brace or collar.

The second most frequent spinal trauma injury involves damage at the point where the flexible lumbar (lower back) and rigid thoracic (chest) sections of the spine join. This is a weak point in the spine. Trauma to this region often occurs when the body bends around a seatbelt in a car accident. The force of the movement stresses the spine and can cause fractures in the thoracic-lumbar region.

Spinal Cord Injury

The majority of spinal trauma injuries do not cause neurological (nerve) damage or injuries to the spinal cord. However, when the spinal cord is impacted, the resulting damage can be localized to specific nerves or can encompass the entire spinal cord. If a vertebra is fractured, a piece of bone can pinch, cut or sever the spinal cord. This can result in serious symptoms such as trouble breathing, the loss of control of bodily functions or even paralysis. Broken vertebrae can collapse the spinal column or change its alignment. This causes spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the space that houses the spinal cord.

Spinal trauma can also damage the discs (gel-like cushions) that sit between the vertebrae. Disc herniation and spinal stenosis can put pressure on specific nerves causing pain that is felt in other parts of the body, such as from the low back down the leg or from the neck down the arm.

Symptoms of spinal cord injury are often felt in the arms and legs and may include:

  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Pain
  • Paralysis

If a spinal cord injury is present, the primary goal is to relieve the pressure on the nerves and spinal cord as quickly as possible to preserve nerve function.

At Indiana University Health, our neurosurgeons are equipped to deliver highly advanced trauma care for spine and spinal cord injuries. Through our Level I Trauma Center and our post-hospital care, we use a multidisciplinary approach. We work with a team of specialists including experts in neuro-rehabilitation and intensive care to manage your injury and help you regain optimum health.

Spinal trauma and spinal cord injuries can be serious conditions that cause pain and affect your ability to function normally. We use advanced treatments to stabilize your spine, reduce your pain and relieve the pressure on your spinal cord to preserve function.

In most cases, spinal trauma does not require surgery and can be treated with braces or collars and rehabilitation. When surgery is needed, our Level I Trauma Center delivers fast, expert care.

The Indiana University Health Neuroscience Center is an advanced neurology and neurosurgery care center that provides a full array of services to treat your spinal trauma and rehabilitate the injury so you can get back on your feet. Our affiliation with the Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Neurology and the neurosurgical team at Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine allows us to deliver comprehensive care and gives us access to the latest research in spinal trauma and spinal cord injuries.

Our physicians are actively testing and studying new minimally invasive surgical techniques for spinal trauma and spinal cord surgery, as well as developing new products and hardware used to stabilize the spine. We are also investigating medicines designed to reduce further damage to the spinal cord shortly after trauma occurs.

How We Can Help

How We Can Help

Spinal Trauma & Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Information

Treatment for spinal trauma involves stabilizing the spine to encourage healing. If the spinal cord is injured, we use leading-edge surgery to reduce pressure on the nerves in order to maintain function.

Several diagnostic tests are used to diagnose and confirm a spinal cord injury. They include:

Our treatments include:

We also advance care through clinical studies:

Spinal Trauma & Spinal Cord Injury Locations & Physicians

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Spinal Trauma & Spinal Cord Injury Support Services

Learn more about spinal trauma and spinal cord injury treatments at these websites: