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Spinal Fracture From Skier Collision

A broken back or spinal fracture, can sometimes occur in a high-impact skier collision. Remember, for purposes of the Colorado Ski Safety Act “SSA”, the terms skier and snowboarder are interchangeable. There are different types of spinal fractures that a snowboarding collision victim can sustain.

The type of spinal injury suffered matters because it impacts stability of the spine. Also, the location of the injury could play a role in spinal cord damage. Here are a few types of fracture patterns as described by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) and the how the type of spinal fracture affects treatment and prognosis.

Fracture Pattern

This is one major type of spinal fracture that can lead to a compression fracture where the back (posterior) part of the vertebra remains intact but the front (anterior) breaks. Typically the spine remains stable and it doesn’t cause neurological problems. In other cases, an axial burst fracture may occur where both sides lose height.

Flexion fractures usually don’t require surgery. However, the patient may have to wear a brace for several months and require various pain medications to cope with the injury. However, if there is a significant loss of height in the vertebra or other complications, then surgery may be required.

Extension Fracture Pattern

This type can cause a flexion/distraction fracture, which causes the vertebra to get pulled apart. This can happen in a crash where the victim’s upper body is thrust forward violently. This type of injury might occur when the downhill snowboarder gets hit by someone that is in the air and strikes the upper body at high speed.

Patients who have an extension fracture pattern may require various treatments depending on the location of injury. When damage occurs to the posterior ligaments of the spine, it usually requires surgery, reports the AAOS. Or if the fracture goes through the spinal discs, surgery will help with stabilization. But with a fracture that affects just the vertebral body, the patient may only need a brace for several months.

Rotation Fracture Pattern

This type of fracture can lead to a fracture-dislocation, an unstable injury. It causes displacement of the vertebrae and oftentimes, severe compression of the spinal cord. A transverse process fracture is uncommon, according to AAOS, and occurs as the spine rotates or bends sideways. This type of fracture can occur in a skier collision when getting stuck on the side from the uphill rider.

A fracture-dislocation is an unstable injury that many times results in serious nerve and/or spinal cord damage. To stabilize the spine, surgery is necessary. But since this type of injury tends to happen in a high-velocity crash, there are usually life-threatening injuries that require immediate medical attention. Therefore, surgery for the spinal fracture may not happen right away.

The prognosis after a spinal injury is most times good when it’s a stable injury that requires nonsurgical treatment as long as there’s a gradual increase in physical activity and some type of rehabilitation involved. But an unstable injury could lead to complications such as paralysis and impaired mobility.

Any spinal fracture is a significant injury. The recovery may be months or years of agony. Sometimes the victim is left with a lifetime of pain and limitations of function. If another skier or snowboarder’s negligence resulted in a collision and a broken spine, it’s important to understand one’s legal options. Life is not a dress rehearsal! Spinal fractures can lead to massive medical bills and weeks (or longer) out from work. For those whose injuries are severe, it may even prevent the individual from returning to work. Between medical costs and the loss of income, it can create a significant financial burden.

If you or a family member or loved one has been injured in a collision on the slopes I encourage you to call (303) 300-5060 or email me for a free consultation. Providing honest answers and helping injury victims is something I do every day.  

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