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The 5 Most Common Acute Spine Injuries and Their Symptoms 2017-04-12T16:03:10+00:00

The 5 Most Common Acute Spine Injuries and Their Symptoms

Cute spine problems?  No, acute.  Ugly may be a better term because they hurt.  Acute means “new,” that it happened today or within the past three weeks or so.  Because you have a spine, you will likely experience some form of acute spinal problem in your lifetime.  When it occurs, you need some treatment.  If not treated, it can become chronic, causing pain and lifestyle limitations for a long time.  Here are the five most common acute spine injuries:

Stiff Neck or Back

Have you ever awakened with a nasty “crick” in the neck? One of its diagnoses is “torticollis.”  Babies sometimes get it in the birthing process.  Their heads are tilted sideways as if one ear is struggling to listen to the shoulder.  In older folks, it’s usually a muscle spasm, trigger point, arthritis, misaligned vertebra, and/or a disc problem underlying the pain.  A muscle spasm is often accompanied by a stuck spinal segment that can be mobilized for some relief.  Simple things, such as sleeping with your neck in an awkward position, long hours sitting at a computer, and sudden movements of the neck are the common culprits.

Waking up with a back ache, typically of the lower back, is also very common.  This has the same causes as the stiff neck, and you can readily identify the problem by considering if you slept on a different bed, the couch, or on your belly for some of the night.  Sleeping on your belly can make your back and neck ache.  Side and back sleeping are recommended. Cradling the phone between head and shoulders is a surefire way to get neck pain.

Strain of the Spinal Muscles

The second most common acute spine injury is a strain.  This is damage to the muscles and tendons that move the spine. Symptoms include muscle spasm, reduced flexibility, and pain. Neck strains occur commonly in car crashes, sports, falls, and even the head-banging of rock and rollers.  To treat a neck muscle strain, consider reducing inflammation with over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.  Then, see a health care professional that knows how to treat and rehabilitate spinal strains normally involving various types of physical therapy. 

Spinal Sprains

Neck sprains are some of the most serious spine injuries because they happen to the ligaments that hold spinal joints together.  A ligament may be stretched or torn.  If it’s torn, the spinal vertebrae are unstable and can move too much, risking injury to the spinal cord and nerve roots.  If you suspect someone in your environment has a severe neck injury, you should immobilize their spine and call 911 immediately. For minor and moderate sprains, ice and rest are the first aids.  Then get it checked by a doctor. Neck sprains can be caused by falls, auto collisions, or sports traumas.  Symptoms of a neck sprain include swelling, reduced flexibility, and pain.

Whiplash-Associated Disorders (WAD)

WAD is a set of symptoms following a sudden movement event in which the head is thrown first into hyperextension and then quickly forward. It’s most often due to car accidents, but may be caused by sports injuries, falls or other traumas.  This acute spine injury needs to be rehabilitated. Whiplash (aka acceleration-deceleration injury) may also damage joints or discs, which in turn may irritate spinal nerve roots or, more rarely, the spinal cord. Depending on the exact nature of the injury, symptoms can include pain, weakness, headache, numbness, tingling or other electric-type sensations that go down an arm or arms. Stiffness, dizziness and disturbed sleep are also possible.  If not rehabilitated properly, chronic problems will likely occur.

Herniated Disc Related to Spine Injuries

A herniated disc occurs when the soft substance that is contained inside the center of the disc (called the nucleus pulposus) breaks through the outer, tougher part of the disc. Should this jelly-like substance squeeze a nerve root, which it often does, you’ll likely feel pain and/or have nerve-related symptoms. Nerve-radiating symptoms generally include weakness, numbness, and a burning sensation or electrical shock sensation that runs down the arms or legs.  Disc extrusion/herniation is one of the most serious, acute spine injuries. Treatment generally begins with medication and physical therapy but may proceed to laser therapy, injections, or surgery as needed.

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