Private spinal fracture treatment

Whilst spinal fractures will cause pain and restrict your mobility, the most severe cases may leave a patient with irreversible, life-changing consequences. Our spinal specialists provide expert advice, precise diagnosis and effective fractured spine treatment.

Spinal and peripheral nerve

At HCA UK's leading private facilities:

  • Experts in spinal fracture diagnosis provide treatment and care
  • Appointments with specialist consultants are confirmed within 24 hours
  • Our private healthcare is recommended by 96% of our patients to their family and friends

What is a spinal fracture?

A spinal fracture is a clinical term used to describe the breaking and/or dislocation of any of the group of small bones in your back, known as the vertebrae. Your spinal column consists of 33 vertebra, all of which protect the spinal cord, support the weight of your head and body, and allow flexible movement.

The severity and consequences of a fractured spine can vary significantly depending on the type of fracture, the spinal segment impacted, and if any damage has been done to the spinal cord. Less severe cases can be treated often without the need for surgery.

The significance of the spinal cord, which runs through the spinal canal of each vertebra, makes the potential consequences of any break or fracture serious. Your spinal cord is a long tube of tissue containing nerves and cells and is primarily responsible for your motor function (how you move, sense and react). It connects your brain to your lower back through the nervous system. A vertebral fracture or dislocation can pinch, compress and even tear your spinal cord and nerves, so always seek expert medical attention and spinal fracture treatment as soon as possible.

What causes spinal fractures?

Anyone can suffer a fractured spine, just like any bone fracture or break. They're most commonly caused by traumatic events such as traffic collisions, sports injuries and falls from a height, all of which exert significant forces on your body and musculoskeletal system. The spine and vertebrae are flexible and can usually withstand the impacts of daily life, but the sudden and often extreme forces involved in a traumatic event can overload your spinal column. This can cause single or multiple fractures along your backbone. Dislocations can be independent of or connected to fractures and occur when the discs or ligaments connecting two vertebra are torn or stretched.

However, traumatic events aren't the only cause of spinal fractures. Other health conditions can leave your vertebrae more susceptible to breaks due to deteriorating bone density and strength over time. The most common include:

  • Osteoporosis: This condition weakens your bones and makes them more likely to break or fracture. Older adults are more likely to develop osteoporosis as they age, but it can impact younger people too.
  • Cancer and spinal tumours: Spinal cancer or one that has spread to the area from another part of the body (metastasic cancer) can contribute to vertebral fractures. As tumours grow, they often put pressure on the spinal cord, increasing the risk of fractures. Spinal tumours can also be non-cancerous but just as threatening to your health and mobility.

Types of spinal fractures 

Different types of fractures can develop in any of the vertebra along your spine, while dislocations occur between vertebra. Identifying which type of spinal fracture you've suffered allows consultants to assess the injury's severity, evaluate the risks and suggest the most effective treatment.

Fracture location

Your spinal column consists of three different sections, as well as five sacral and four coccyx bones which make up the rest of the 33 vertebrae. A spinal fracture can occur in any of the segments, including:

  • Cervical spine: The top seven vertebrae make up your cervical spine segment, closest to the base of your skull and neck
  • Thoracic spine: The middle 12 vertebrae are in the thoracic spine segment, which runs from the base of your neck to the bottom of your ribs.
  • Lumbar spine: The bottom five vertebrae are the largest in the spine and form your lumbar segment, which supports much of your body weight in the lower back.

Fracture types

As well as the location, the type of fracture can determine the severity of a spine injury. The most common include:

  • Compression fractures: Small cracks and deterioration of the vertebrae can lead to collapse under sustained compression over time. This impacts the front of the vertebrae more than the back, often creating a hunched posture and reducing your height. This type of spinal fracture is most common in people with osteoporosis but can occur after tumours. 
  • Burst fractures: These injuries are more sudden and usually happen when your spine is compressed under significant weight or force. This often leads to your vertebrae breaking into many pieces and in multiple directions, increasing the chances of spinal cord damage. This is typically a more severe and debilitating spinal fracture, commonly arising from traffic collisions and sports injuries.
  • Chance (distraction) fractures: Like a burst injury, a chance fracture also occurs suddenly but when extreme forces pull vertebra away from each other rather than compressing them. These are sometimes referred to as seatbelt fractures because the rapid deceleration in a car crash can cause your spine to flex beyond its limits. 

Stable and unstable spinal fractures

There's an important distinction to be made between stable and unstable spinal fractures. Your consultant will use this as another way to classify and assess your injuries, as well as to recommend the most effective treatment for your condition.

A stable fracture is less serious because the structure of your spinal column hasn't been fundamentally changed, despite a fracture somewhere along the vertebrae. You'll still need treatment, but the need for spine surgery is less likely.

An unstable fracture carries greater risk because the vertebrae has been dislodged from its natural alignment and poses a greater threat to your spinal cord and the structure of your backbone. Spine surgery is more likely to be needed for an unstable fracture because the damage is more severe and the ongoing risks of nerve damage and paralysis are higher.

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What are the symptoms of a fractured spine?

Spinal fracture symptoms can depend massively on the type, severity and location of the injury. Some people don't notice they have a compression fracture which has developed gradually over time.  

The symptoms associated with burst and chance fractures are usually more serious and quicker to develop. You may experience any of the following fractured spine symptoms:

  • Intense back or neck pain, often worsening with movement
  • Swelling, usually of the area around the fractured vertebra which becomes painful to touch
  • Tingling and numbness, in your back but sometimes running down your arms or legs
  • Weakness and paralysis of limbs without any other explanation
  • Changes to your natural posture which worsen over time
  • Height loss, you may become noticeably shorter over time
  • Incontinence, meaning you lose control of your bladder or bowels.
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When to see a spinal consultant

If you start noticing spinal fracture symptoms in the aftermath of a traumatic event, such as a car accident or sports injury, or if you suffer from osteoporosis, book an appointment with an orthopaedic spinal specialist. They will give an accurate diagnosis and if required will find the most effective treatment for a fractured spine.

Surgery may not be required, so an expert consultant can recommend methods to treat and manage spinal fracture pain which could heal naturally. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are commonly used to manage pain and symptoms until another treatment is provided or to encourage the fracture to heal naturally.

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How to book an appointment

If you're looking for an expert opinion on fractured spine symptoms, booking an appointment with one of our spinal consultants can be done in a few simple steps.

  1. Call us or enter your details into our online form.
  2. Keep any referral letters you've been given. These may have information that can help us provide the right spinal fracture treatment.
  3. We'll book you an appointment with one of our consultants immediately or contact you within 24 hours to confirm it.

How is a fractured spine diagnosed?

During an appointment with a specialist consultant, you'll be asked to share your symptoms and discuss any changes you've noticed in your posture, strength or mobility. They'll also ask you about any pain or nerve damage symptoms you're experiencing. A physical examination may help to reveal key areas of your spine to focus on, but imaging tests are usually needed to confirm a spinal fracture.

If you have osteoporosis or recently experienced trauma (for example, in a car accident), this information will help the consultant get a better sense of the cause behind your spinal fracture pain. If you were taken into emergency care after a traumatic accident, a fractured spine may have been diagnosed by medical staff there and then.

The imaging tests most commonly used to diagnose spinal fractures are X-rays, MRI scans and CT scans. You may also need a bone density (DEXA) scan if you're at risk of osteoporosis. One or a combination of these tests will allow your consultant to assess the severity and type of fracture you've suffered, before recommending the most effective spinal fracture treatment.

Spinal fracture treatments

The most effective treatment for a spinal fracture depends on what caused it, which type you've suffered and where along your backbone the fracture occurred. The more severe your spine injury or trauma, the higher the likelihood you'll need surgery.

Non-surgical treatments

Many less severe spinal fractures don't require surgery and can heal naturally over time. The most common treatments to aid this process are:

  • Pain management: Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs is often used to manage the pain and symptoms of a spinal fracture until other treatment is provided or while treatment is ongoing. However, this shouldn't be a long-term approach and you should seek medical diagnosis and treatment if you haven't already
  • Back bracing: A supportive back brace can help maintain proper spinal alignment and immobilises your spine to avoid further damage to your vertebrae and promote healing. This may be needed for 8-12 weeks, but your consultant will discuss details about the type of brace and how long you'll wear it. Different braces are needed for different sections of your spine, as well as for unstable and stable fractures.
  • Physical therapy: In cases where bone density and strength continue to pose a risk to your spinal column, physical therapy may be recommended to reduce the risk of spinal fractures reoccurring. The aim is to strengthen the muscles, ligaments and tendons in your back to provide more support to the spine.
  • Medicine or supplements for the underlying issue: If certain health conditions have caused or increased your risk of a spinal fracture, consultants will recommend medicine or supplements to help with underlying issues. For example, if you have osteoporosis, you may be given supplements to maintain and improve your bone density to reduce the risk of fractures in the future. 

Fractured spine surgery

Surgery may be required for more serious cases, particularly where there's a risk of damaging your spinal cord. For osteoporotic compression fractures, the two most common spinal surgeries are:

  • Vertebroplasty: A small cut is made to allow a hollow needle to access the fracture, then liquid bone cement is injected into the collapsed vertebra to stabilise them. 
  • Kyphoplasty: A small cut is made in the affected area and a balloon is inserted into the collapsed vertebra and inflated to restore height and position. This creates a cavity that is filled with liquid bone cement under pressure to correct the anatomy of the fractured bone while improving strength and stability.

Both kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty are minimally invasive surgeries to reduce tissue damage, blood loss and operating times. Your consultant will explain the procedure beforehand, including whether you'll be under general or local anaesthetic. After the surgery, you may need to lie flat for a few hours, but you should be able to go home on the same day. The cuts should heal within a week but you'll have to avoid intense exercise or heavy lifting for up to six weeks.

For unstable and more severe burst or chance fractures, minimally invasive procedures may not be suitable. This is because of the damage caused by your injuries and the pressing risk to your spinal cord. Your spinal surgery consultant may recommend a more conventional open operation instead. 

This may involve the fusion of vertebrae, where two bones are held together with a bone graft using plates, rods and screws. This should restore spinal stability by creating one connected piece of bone, although this can take several months to years to fuse sufficiently.

If your fracture was caused by a cancerous or benign spinal tumour, you may need initial treatment to remove it before other treatment can take place.

Why choose HCA UK

Why choose HCA for fractured spine treatment?

  • Fast access to specialist healthcare: We will get your initial consultation booked and confirmed within 24 hours of your first contact with us.
  • Spinal fracture treatment specialists: Our spinal consultants are experts in the diagnosis, treatment and management of spine injuries, so we can find the best approach for you.
  • Trusted by patients: The results of our 2022 patient survey found that 97% would rate HCA UK's orthopaedic care as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’.
  • Advanced diagnostics: We can get to the source of your spinal fracture symptoms with the most effective diagnostic methods available, including industry-leading imaging technology.
  • Leading private hospitals: We have a higher proportion of 'Outstanding' ratings from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) than any other private healthcare group in the UK. 
How to book an appointment

How to book an appointment with a spinal fracture specialist

We understand a spinal fracture can have a significant impact on your quality of life and may even lead to life-changing circumstances if you don't receive the right treatment. Get more information on accurate diagnosis, treatment and pain management by booking an appointment with one of HCA UK's specialist spinal consultants today.

Our Private spinal fracture treatment locations

Institute of Sport Exercise and Health (ISEH)

Institute of Sport Exercise and Health (ISEH)

170 Tottenham Court Road W1T 7HA London
The Harley Street Clinic

The Harley Street Clinic

35 Weymouth Street W1G 8BJ London
The Portland Hospital

The Portland Hospital

205-209 Great Portland Street W1W 5AH London
The Princess Grace Hospital

The Princess Grace Hospital

42-52 Nottingham Place W1U 5NY London
The Lister Hospital

The Lister Hospital

Chelsea Bridge Road, SW1W 8RH London
The Shard Outpatients

The Shard Outpatients

The Shard, 32 St Thomas Street SE1 9BS London

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.