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Back Injuries

What is a back injury?
What are the signs of a back injury?
What causes a back injury?
How does my doctor tell if I have a back injury?
How is a back injury treated?

What is a back injury?

A back injury is a condition in which one or more of the bones that make up the spine get fractured (usually in an accident or sports injury). If more pressure is put on any bone than it can stand, it will split or break. The spine is made up of bones that can be broken in a variety of ways and often the cause is an injury of some kind. If you suspect someone has a back injury, you should avoid moving them and should contact the emergency services immediately by calling 911.

What are the signs of a back injury?

  • Extreme, sudden pain in the back
  • Inability to move
  • Numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation after a while

What causes a back injury?

Common causes include:

  • A fall from a height
  • A motor vehicle accident
  • A direct blow

How does my doctor tell if I have a back injury?

Your doctor will take some of the following steps to see if you have a back injury:

  • Talk with the patient to find out if the pain occurred after a twist, lifting something heavy, or some other physical action. Also they may ask questions about a family history or a previous history of back injuries
  • Perform a physical examination, by looking at the patient's back and other limbs
  • Order an MRI (magnetic resonance image) to get a clear view of the problem
  • Request a CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan of the spine

How is a back injury treated?

A first-aid response is appropriate if you suspect a back injury. In other words, do not move the patient unless their life is in immediate danger—for instance, if they are unable to breathe or trapped in a fire.

After a patient is diagnosed with a back injury, the doctor will have to determine the best treatment depending on the type of break.

Surgery is often considered to treat a fractured back. The surgeon chooses the treatment method based on the severity of the fracture. For example, the fractured bones (vertebrae) may be fused to the healthy vertebrae next to it, or may be removed and replaced with a bone graft that is fused to the vertebrae on either side. Traction techniques may be used to help align the bones as they heal. Back surgery is often complicated and the recovery process can be somewhat slow.

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