Acute Spinal Injuries: A Comprehensive Overview

Dr. Sandro LaRocca MD of New Jersey Neck & Back Institute, P.C.

With causes ranging from slips and falls to motor vehicle accidents, many patients of all ages and backgrounds sustain an acute spinal injury each year. As Dr. Sandro LaRocca of New Jersey Neck & Back Institute, P.C. often informs patients, these injuries even affect those who are young and have healthy, appropriately dense bones. Here, we’ve assembled this helpful outline about the causes and effects of acute spinal injuries, as well as their diagnosis and treatment.

What Are Acute Spinal Injuries?

Unlike chronic conditions of the spine, acute spinal injuries occur suddenly and generate symptoms that appear right away. These injuries often cause bruises, as well as partial or complete tears in the spine and its surrounding tissues. In the most severe cases, acute spinal injuries can lead to permanent disability or even death.

All individuals regardless of age and health are at equal risk of sustaining an acute spinal injury. Injuries of this type are often caused by sports and motor vehicle accidents, falls, certain birth conditions, violent acts, and other types of trauma.  

Common Acute Spinal Injuries

At New Jersey Neck & Back Institute, P.C., Dr. LaRocca often sees acute spinal injury symptoms like severe discomfort, muscle weakness, and difficulty breathing. Some patients even exhibit decreased bowel and bladder function, as well as a loss of voluntary muscle movement or sensation in the legs, chest, and arms. Oftentimes, these symptoms indicate one or more of the following acute spinal injuries:

Strains and strains

Sprains and strains affect the ligaments, fibrous tissues that connect bones to other bones. These injuries occur when the ligaments stretch too far, fray, or tear. Symptoms include bruising, swelling, loss of mobility, and pain.

 Herniated Disks

Found in the spine, disks act as cushions between the vertebrae. Each disk contains a soft center called a nucleus, as well as a rubbery exterior shell called an annulus. Herniated discs occur when the annulus cracks, allowing a portion of the nucleus to escape. The herniated disc can result in back or neck pain.  When a disc herniation results in compression of the nerves within the spine, it can result in spinal cord dysfunction (myelopathy) or radiating pain/numbness/weakness into the arms or legs (radiculopathy or sciatica). 

Fractures

Falls or motor vehicle accidents can result in fractures, or broken bones in the spine.  This can  result in pain but each fracture is different and can result in instability of the spine and neurologic injury.

Spondylolysis

This condition gets its name from two Greek words: spondylos (meaning vertebra or spine) and lysis (meaning loosening or breaking). Put simply, spondylolysis is an irregularity affecting the connection between each vertebra, which leads to small stress fractures that may weaken these bones.  

Flare-Ups from Certain Conditions

Patients with specific spinal conditions may sustain an acute injury should a flare-up occur. This is common in those with degenerative spondylolisthesis, a disorder that causes a vertebra to slip onto the bone directly under it. Flare-ups due to lumbar spinal stenosis, which causes narrowing of the spaces within the spine and places pressure on spinal nerves, also lead to acute injuries.

Receiving Treatment from Dr. LaRocca

When patients describe symptoms of acute spinal injuries, Dr. LaRocca identifies their specific injury by utilizing his extensive experience and a variety of diagnostic testing options. These include blood work, X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

While some acute spinal injuries can be addressed with medication, physical therapy, and other noninvasive treatments, many require surgery. When this is the case, Dr. LaRocca works with patients to determine the best course of treatment for their unique condition.

Surgical Solutions for Acute Spinal Injuries

If you’ve sustained an acute spinal injury, New Jersey Neck & Back Institute, P.C. can help. Dr. LaRocca has been Fellowship Trained in Complex Spinal Reconstruction and Board Certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, giving him the expertise needed to address the most challenging acute spinal injuries. To learn more, contact us today to schedule an appointment in Lawrenceville, Toms River, North Brunswick, or Mount Laurel.

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