A fracture to your spinal cord – or your back – is a serious injury that if not diagnosed and treated properly can lead to unnecessary surgery, ongoing pain and weakness running into your arms or legs, height loss, kyphosis (a curved back) or even paralysis. In a healthy individual, a back fracture can be caused by a fall from a great height or other significant trauma to the back, such as during an auto accident. However if you are older you could have a fracture in your back with little to no trauma due to a condition called osteoporosis (a condition in which your bones are weak, brittle, and more likely to break).
Symptoms of a back fracture include ongoing back pain; weakness, numbness, or pain running into your arms or legs (if a spinal nerve is involved); loss of height; a curved shape to your spine; difficulty bending and twisting your body; or bladder control issues (if the fracture is affecting your lower spine). If you are an older person with osteoporosis with these symptoms, or have these symptoms after suffering significant trauma to your back, your doctor should consider and attempt to rule out a back fracture.
The type of injury you can suffer to your back can vary. You may suffer a compression fracture which is when more pressure is put on the vertebrae (the bony material in between the discs of your spinal cord) then it can stand causing it to break. You could also suffer a dislocation – when the ligaments or discs connecting the vertebrae in your back are stretched or torn causing them to come out of alignment. Sometimes you can suffer both a fracture and dislocation.
These injuries are diagnosed with imaging studies such as X-Rays, CT scans, and MRIs. Treatment will depend on the severity of the fracture. Sometimes it can be treated non-surgically with braces and orthodics. The main goal with this treatment is to maintain your spinal alignment, immobilize your back and allow it to heal properly, and help control your pain by restricting your movement. However the injury may require a surgical procedure called fusion surgery. This is used when you have an unstable fracture and involves joining two vertebrae with a bone graft and hardware. You may require Vertebroplasty or Kyphoplasty which involves expanding the compressed and fractured vertebrae with cement and either needles or balloons.
Malpractice, or negligence, can occur with these injuries when a doctor misses the signs and symptoms of a back fracture and does not order imaging studies on your back to rule one out, not following up on a radiologist’s recommendations to order a follow up CT scan or MRI to rule out a fracture after initial imaging such as an X-Ray is performed, or if the fracture is missed by the doctor reviewing your imaging studies. Misdiagnosis and delayed treatment could result in a fracture that could have been treated non-surgically but will now require invasive surgery because of further damage done due to delayed treatment. Even if surgery would have been needed to treat your back fracture regardless, delayed surgical treatment may lead to significant complications, such as paralysis, that could have been avoided with timely treatment.
Your case could be against a variety of doctors – whether it be emergency care, orthopedic care, or primary care – usually depending on who you initially treat with and who was reviewing your imaging studies. Any potential negligent actors can be determined by a thorough review of the records and consultation with doctors who are medical experts in this field of medicine.
The Thistle Law Firm is experienced at handling malpractice claims involving fracture misdiagnosis. If you believe there was negligence or malpractice in the treatment of your or your loved one’s back fracture the attorneys at the Thistle Law Firm are here to take your call and answer your questions at 215-525-6824.