WARNING: Preventing Traumatic Spine Injury – 4 Factors of Focus

Over the years, I’ve written extensively on how people can avoid spine surgery for various conditions that cause back pain and, when they can’t, how surgery can often be performed using a minimally invasive approach. Most of those articles have an asterisk disclaimer that comes with them because traumatic spine injuries are an “exception to the rule.” In cases where the spine has been acutely injured in such a way that only surgery can fix it, the option for minimally invasive repair isn’t always available. Sometimes, a trauma surgeon must make immediate life-or-death decisions, and they cannot afford the time required to weigh the pros and cons. This complex message has a silver lining, however. You can reduce your risk of catastrophic spine injury. Here’s how:

Defeat Distraction

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of traumatic injury to the spine in the United States, accounting for nearly 40 percent of new spinal cord injury cases. Unsafe speed and driver distraction rates are among the leading reasons for car accidents. We can’t control what other drivers around us are doing, so we need to be even more vigilant and defensive in our approach to driving. With handheld technology and texting, the risks of severe vehicle collisions have increased over the years. The results of significant vehicle accidents while driving distracted are real, devastating, and in the most severe cases – life-ending. Whatever needs doing can wait while you’re driving a car. If it’s urgent, safely pull off the road, park the car, and then attend to what needs to be done before you get back on the road. Driving should ALWAYS be a one-thing-at-a-time activity. 

De-Clutter Your Domain

Falls are the second leading cause of traumatic spinal cord injury in the United States. Especially for the elderly, hard falls can result in spinal trauma after tripping over a rug on the floor. Contrary to what many believe, you don’t have to fall off the house’s roof or from another great height to sustain a spine injury. A hard-enough fall inside the home, especially for those of an age where bone health begins to deteriorate, can do plenty of damage. Especially before you turn in for the night, make sure the pathway to the bathroom (or another walking path you might travel in the dark) is free of hazards that could make you trip and fall. 

Work Wisely

The potential for a traumatic spine injury is a risk due to their profession. Work that involves repetitive twisting, bending, and lifting can result in degenerative spinal disease over time and may increase the risk of a spinal fracture. In addition, acute spine injuries can occur for those with jobs that involve lifting, climbing, or operating heavy machinery. In such cases, acute, traumatic spine injury can be avoided by remembering safety first for those who have labor-intensive careers. Always use the proper protective equipment and techniques no matter how many years you might have on the job. If a piece of safety equipment isn’t working correctly, inform your supervisor immediately. Even if the safety gear feels bulky or takes a while to enable or put on, it is there for your protection. Use it.

Reduce Risk

Statistically, men around 40 are at the highest risk for developing a traumatic spine injury than any other gender/age group. This is likely because younger men tend to engage in riskier physical behaviors than women and older people. Regardless of the statistics, no one’s spine is indestructible. They can and do break. Especially when in public places, pay attention to warning posts. For example, if there is a sign posted that indicates shallow depths in a body of water, don’t dive into it. Those warnings aren’t suggestions; they’re there for a reason. Disobeying warning signs is never worth the potential thrill of the event. Death, paralysis, and a lifetime of pain can befall even the most physically fit people. There are many other ways to access adventure without putting yourself at significant bodily risk. Seek those opportunities instead, and don’t leap head-first (literally and figuratively) into the unknown.

In addition to the life-altering disability that traumatic spine injuries can put a person at risk of experiencing, significant too are the financial burdens. Statistics show that only about half of the people who sustain a traumatic spine injury can have the costs to treat it covered by private insurance. The average price of spine injury treatments per individual in the acute phase alone (not including follow-up care and rehabilitation) is nearly $150,000. The cost of traumatic spine injury to life, limb, and wallet is too great for anyone to bear. If you are concerned about your spine health risk, play it safe now. You only have one spine and one life – protect it, because their worth it.




Neel Anand MD