Ask Dr. Choi: How Is a Bruised Spine Evaluated?

Dr. Choi identifies bruised spine symptoms that require medical evaluation.

bruised spine

The occasional bruise on an arm or leg is usually not a reason for alarm. However, trauma that causes a bruised spine may require medical evaluation. Spine pain interventionalist Dr. Catherine Choi explains what happens when the spine is bruised. And she discusses the symptoms she looks for when evaluating these injuries.

Who is at risk for a bruised spine?

“Anyone can suffer spinal cord trauma,” explains Dr. Choi. However, approximately 80 percent of bruised spine cases occur in males between the ages of 15 and 35. “We know that car accidents are responsible for about half of these injuries,” says Dr. Choi. “Other culprits include falls and sports-related injuries. Overindulging in alcohol is a contributing factor in about a quarter of spine contusion injuries. It is also important to note that pre-existing diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis can increase the risk of spinal cord trauma.”

How is a bruised spine different from other bruises?

A bruise, or contusion, is the result of damaged blood vessels that bleed at the site of injury. When blood clots to stop the bleeding, you may experience discoloration and inflammation. Unlike bruises at other sites on the body, a bruise on the spine may affect spinal cord function.

Our spinal cord carries nerve signals between the brain and the body. Consequently, a bruised spine may affect the nerves conducting impulses from the body to the brain. The neck, or cervical region of the spine, is the site of most spinal cord injuries. Neck trauma may cause bruising of the spinal cord, loss of blood flow, or severing of the cord itself. Such injuries can be serious and should be medically evaluated.

Symptoms of spinal trauma

If you have been in a severe car crash or have experienced an injury to the head or neck, bruising may put pressure on the spinal cord, causing a spinal compression. However, it’s important to remember that symptoms aren’t always immediately apparent. Severe pain, bruising, or swelling should be evaluated for spinal cord trauma. Other concerning symptoms include the following:

  • Numbness or tingling in extremities
  • Loss of feeling or movement below the spine injury
  • Diminished strength in extremities
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Problems with attention or memory
  • Changes in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Loss of bladder control

What are the treatments for a bruised spine?

If you experience severe pain, loss of function, or other concerning symptoms following a spine injury, seek medical evaluation. In many cases, people recover fully under conservative treatment. When the injury is more severe, surgery may be necessary. Surgery stabilizes the spine or removes fragments of injured bone. A surgical procedure might also be used to drain fluid or a clot that is pressing on the spinal cord.

“Part of my approach with any spine issue is to educate the patient,” says Dr. Choi. “I explain what’s happening, using imaging to identify the medical issues. I’ve found that my approach draws the patient into the treatment plan and helps clarify options we can pursue. I discuss the gamut of options from the conservative to the extreme. Then, we choose a treatment plan together. Ultimately, it’s up to my patients to decide what path they want to take.”

Steps you can take to prevent a bruised spine

Spine contusions are the result of trauma, and accidents do happen. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of trauma associated with spinal cord injury.

  • Always wear your seat belt.
  • Don’t drink and drive.
  • Practice precautionary measures when you dive. Never dive into water if you don’t know its depth. Even when diving into safe depths of 9 feet or more, keep your arms in front of you.
  • Wear protective equipment during sports competitions.
  • Take preventative measures to guard against falls.

Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise

Summit Orthopedics’ Spine Care program is recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for the comprehensive expertise of our patient-centered care. Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.

Start your journey to a healthy spine. Find your spine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a spine consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNPlymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

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  • Catherine Y. Choi, M.D.

    “My philosophy in treating my patient is to provide personalized spine education,  review comprehensive treatment options and work together in determining the best path for you.”

    More about this expert

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