Spine Trauma

Spine trauma and injuries can occur due to sudden traumatic impacts from things like falling or car accidents. They can also be the result of acts of violence like gunshot wounds and physical encounters. Trauma typically includes fractures, crushing or compressing, as well as dislocation of bones. After the initial trauma, it’s possible to sustain more injury due to swelling and inflammation as well as internal bleeding and accumulation.

The Spine Care and Surgery department at the University of Illinois Chicago specializes in treating rare and complex conditions and injuries. We have a diverse team of industry-leading surgeons with the experience needed to treat and manage severe spine injuries. Being a tertiary referral center we specialize in revision surgery and we often successfully treat the patients who are told “nothing else could be done” for them. You can trust that our team will provide you with the best possible results.

The Central Nervous System

Your central nervous system is an extension of your brain. It connects your brain to the rest of your body, traveling down your spine as a column of soft tissue. Under normal circumstances, it is safely protected within the vertebral column, branching out into peripheral nerves and nerve tracts that extend out into your extremities.

Motor and sensory tracts carry information from other areas of the body, back to the brain. Relaying important feedback about touch, weight, temperature, and pain.

Sustaining spine trauma along the vertebral column will directly impact and interrupt the connection to the brain. As the area of the spine that is damaged rises higher up the spinal column, the area that is impacted will also grow, which is why neck and upper spinal injuries pose the greatest threat.

Damaged Nerves

A chest or lower back spine injury can affect the bodily function of areas like your torso, legs, bladder control, as well as sexual function. A neck injury affects the same areas while also possibly affecting the movement potential of your arms and even your lungs.

Common causes of spinal cord injuries

  • Motor vehicle accidents – Car and motorcycle accidents are the leading causes of spinal cord injury
  • Slips and falls – spinal cord injuries in the elderly are most commonly caused by falls
  • Physical violence – most commonly involving gunshot or knife wounds.
  • Sports and recreation – Athletic activities, high-impact sports like football, and diving in shallow water.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol use can be tied to as many as 1 in 4 spine injuries, as people make poor decisions with impaired judgment for risks.
  • Disease – cancer, osteoporosis, and inflammation of the spinal cord can also cause trauma.


These tests may include:

  • X-rays – can reveal vertebral problems, outline tumors, bone fractures, or degenerative changes in the spine.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan – This scan uses a series of cross-sectional images that can better define vertebral bone, discs, and other possible concerns.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – useful for identifying herniated or bulging discs, locating blood clots, or tumors compressing the spinal cord.

Early (Acute) Stages of Treatment

In the emergency room, doctors focus on:

  • Maintaining your ability to breathe
  • Preventing shock
  • Stabilizing your neck to prevent further spinal cord damage
  • Avoiding possible complications, such as:
    • Stool or urine retention
    • Respiratory or cardiovascular difficulty
    • Prevent blood clots in the extremities


Immediately after sustaining a traumatic spine injury, the most important thing is to prevent any further damage. It’s possible to suffer a catastrophic injury and still have the ability to move. Any additional movement after the injury can further crush and splinter the bone, as well as permanently and irreparably damage the spinal cord. First responders will retrain and immobilize the neck/spine to prevent this.


There are two phases to traumatic spine surgery. First, surgeons will remove bone fragments, foreign materials or substances, and attempt to realign any discs or vertebrae that have become misplaced.

The second phase of surgery aims to reinforce and strengthen the spine, restoring the structural integrity of the spinal column in order to prevent further injury from occurring later in life.

Spine Trauma Treatment at the University of Illinois Chicago

For more information regarding spine care and surgery, speak with a representative from our team by calling our offices or schedule a consultation online today!