What are the Most Common Spinal Injuries?

Debra Riley


The spinal cord is a complex structure that plays a crucial role in facilitating communication between the brain and the rest of the body. It consists of nerve tissues protected by the vertebrae, which are the bones that make up the spine.

Given its importance, any damage to the spinal cord can have profound implications for an individual’s mobility, sensation, and overall quality of life.

Therefore, understanding the most common spinal injuries is essential for both prevention and effective management.

Let’s take a look at some of the most prevalent spinal injuries.

spinal injuries

Types of Spinal Injuries

Traumatic Spinal Cord Injuries

Traumatic spinal cord injuries typically occur as a result of sudden, forceful trauma to the spine. Such injuries can be caused by various incidents, including vehicular accidents, falls from heights, sports-related impacts, and acts of violence.

The severity of these injuries can vary widely, depending on factors such as the location and extent of the trauma. Common types of traumatic spinal cord injuries include:

Spinal Fractures: Spinal fractures involve the breaking or cracking of one or more vertebrae. These fractures can range from minor compression fractures, where the vertebrae collapse but do not move out of place, to more severe burst fractures, where fragments of bone may puncture surrounding tissues.

Spinal Cord Contusions: A contusion refers to bruising or damage to the spinal cord tissue caused by a sudden impact or compression. Contusions can lead to swelling, inflammation, and disruption of the normal functioning of the spinal cord, resulting in neurological deficits.

Spinal Cord Lacerations: In some cases, traumatic events can cause tears or lacerations in the spinal cord tissue. These lacerations can result in partial or complete loss of function below the level of the injury, leading to varying degrees of paralysis and sensory impairment.

Non-Traumatic Spinal Cord Injuries

Non-traumatic spinal cord injuries, on the other hand, develop gradually over time and are often associated with degenerative changes in the spine. These injuries may result from conditions such as aging, repetitive stress, or underlying medical disorders. Common types of non-traumatic spinal cord injuries include:

Degenerative Disc Disease: Degenerative disc disease is a condition characterized by the gradual deterioration of the spinal discs, which act as cushions between the vertebrae. As the discs lose their integrity, they may bulge, herniate, or collapse, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.

Spinal Stenosis: Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal, the space within the vertebrae through which the spinal cord passes, narrows abnormally. This narrowing can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, leading to symptoms such as pain, weakness, and numbness in the back and extremities.

Herniated Discs: A herniated disc, also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, occurs when the soft inner core of a spinal disc protrudes through the tough outer layer. This can result from wear and tear on the disc over time or from sudden trauma. A herniated disc can compress nearby nerves, causing pain, tingling, and weakness in the affected area.

spine injury report form

Symptoms and Effects of Spinal Injuries

Physical Symptoms

Spinal injuries can manifest with a variety of physical symptoms, which may vary depending on the type and severity of the injury. Common physical symptoms of spinal injuries include:

Pain: Pain is a common symptom of spinal injuries and may be localized to the site of the injury or radiate to other areas of the body. The intensity and character of the pain can vary, ranging from dull and achy to sharp and stabbing.

Numbness or Tingling: Spinal injuries can disrupt the normal transmission of nerve signals, leading to sensations of numbness, tingling, or “pins and needles” in the affected area. These sensations may indicate nerve compression or damage.

Loss of Motor Function: Spinal injuries can impair motor function, resulting in weakness, paralysis, or difficulty coordinating movements. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, individuals may experience partial or complete loss of motor control in the affected limbs or muscles.

Psychological and Emotional Effects

In addition to physical symptoms, spinal injuries can also have significant psychological and emotional effects on individuals. Coping with the challenges of a spinal injury can be emotionally taxing and may lead to:

Depression and Anxiety: Dealing with the physical limitations and lifestyle changes associated with a spinal injury can take a toll on mental health, leading to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety.

Changes in Mood and Behavior: Spinal injuries can impact mood regulation and behavior, causing individuals to experience mood swings, irritability, or difficulty coping with stress and frustration.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnostic Procedures

Diagnosing spinal injuries typically involves a combination of medical history review, physical examination, and diagnostic imaging tests. These may include:

Medical History Review: Healthcare providers will gather information about the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and any recent injuries or traumas that may be contributing to their condition.

Physical Examination: A thorough physical examination can help healthcare providers assess the individual’s range of motion, strength, sensation, and reflexes, as well as identify any signs of spinal instability or nerve compression.

Imaging Tests: Diagnostic imaging tests, such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scans, can provide detailed images of the spine and surrounding tissues, helping to identify the location and extent of the injury.

MRI scanner

Treatment Options

Treatment for spinal injuries aims to relieve symptoms, stabilize the spine, and promote healing and rehabilitation. The choice of treatment will depend on factors such as the type and severity of the injury, as well as the individual’s overall health and preferences. Common treatment options for serious injuries include:

Conservative Approaches: Conservative treatments may include rest, medication, physical therapy, and other non-invasive interventions aimed at relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and improving mobility.

Surgical Interventions: In cases of severe or progressive spinal injuries, surgical intervention may be necessary to address underlying structural issues, stabilize the spine, and decompress nerves. Surgical procedures may include spinal fusion, discectomy, laminectomy, or vertebral fracture repair.

Understanding the most common spinal injuries is essential for promoting spinal health, preventing injuries, and facilitating timely diagnosis and treatment. By recognizing the signs and symptoms of spinal injuries, individuals can take proactive steps to minimize risk factors, seek appropriate medical attention, and access comprehensive rehabilitation and support services.

Through a combination of preventive measures, prompt intervention, and ongoing management, individuals can optimize their chances of recovery and maintain spinal health and well-being for years to come.