A broken back involving the spinal cord can paralyze you for life, cutting off communication between the brain and the body below the level of injury. This can limit or stop the body’s ability to transmit sensory information and motor function information from the brain past the point of the injury.
Most broken backs do not lead to significant spinal cord injuries, and many spinal cord injuries are incomplete and do not cause total paralysis. Those who do suffer paralysis may retain some sensory or motor function.
How a Broken Back Can Cause Paralysis
A broken back refers to the fracture of one or more of the vertebrae in the spine. The spine includes 33 vertebrae:
- 7 cervical vertebrae
- 12 thoracic vertebrae
- 5 lumbar vertebrae
- 5 sacral vertebrae
- 4 coccygeal vertebrae
The vertebrae protect the spinal cord. When they get damaged, the spinal cord can also sustain damage, which can cause paralysis.
A Broken Back Usually Does Not Cause Paralysis
A broken vertebra does not automatically mean paralysis. A fracture does not always compromise the spinal cord. Only if the spinal cord suffers damage could paralysis occur. In cases when there is spinal cord involvement, the injury may be complete or incomplete.
Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries
When a spinal cord injury is incomplete, some signals may still get through below the level of the injury. Depending on the degree of damage, you could retain some sensory or motor function following a broken back with spinal cord involvement.
How much you may retain or recover depends on many factors and varies greatly on a case-by-case basis. Some people who suffer only relatively minor spinal cord injuries may continue to walk or feel sensations in their legs and feet. Others retain motor function but suffer a burning sensation or “pins and needles” in their hands, arms, legs, or feet.
Complete Spinal Cord Injuries
When a spinal cord injury is complete, no signals are getting past the point of spinal cord damage. There are no transmissions carrying sensory information, and there is no motor function below the damaged area of the spinal cord. Depending on where the damage is along the spinal cord, the person may be paralyzed from the shoulders, the chest, or the waist down.
Common Causes of Broken Backs and Paralysis
Broken backs most commonly occur in traumatic accidents. Some of the most common causes include:
- Auto accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Slip or trip and falls
- Falls from an elevated height
- Violent acts such as gunshots and stabbings
- Sports and recreation accidents such as diving, football, and horseback riding
Treatment and Recovery Following a Broken Back and Paralysis
Getting prompt treatment for a broken back is key in limiting the damage to the spinal cord. First responders will immobilize the patient before transfer to the ambulance and hospital. Once in the emergency department, doctors will begin tests to better understand the injuries.
The patient will likely undergo medical imaging tests and neurological testing to determine the location and type of fracture, and to see how it affected the spinal cord. They will also begin anti-inflammatory medications to try and prevent further compression of the spinal cord.
Once the patient’s condition stabilizes, the doctor will likely recommend inpatient rehabilitation and/or continuing therapy. During this process, the patient will work to:
- Regain strength
- Relearn skills
- Learn to adapt to your new limited abilities
- Figure out how to live independently, if possible
- Learn new self-care routines
In general, most people with paraplegia can live independently and many even learn to drive cars with hand controls. People with quadriplegia need assistance with all self-care activities and some need around-the-clock care.
Pursuing Compensation for a Broken Back and Paralysis
If you or a loved one suffered a broken back and paralysis, you may be eligible to hold the at-fault party liable for expenses and losses. Recoverable damages in a personal injury case may include medical care costs, ongoing care costs, lost wages and diminished earning capacity, pain and suffering, and more.
The team from Newsome | Melton can review your case and help you understand your rights following a car accident, premises liability accident, medical malpractice incident, or other accident that caused your broken back and paralysis. Let us fight for the compensation you deserve.
Call us at (800) 917-5888 to learn more.