My wife is off work with a burst fracture of the spine. She only works part-time, so she doesn't have any sick leave. I lost my job six weeks ago, so this really puts us in a financial bind. How long does an injury like this take to heal?
Burst fractures occur as a result of a high-energy load through the spine causing the vertebra to break or shatter into many tiny pieces. That's why they call them burst fractures.
Burst fractures are most often caused by car accidents or by falls. The danger of these fractures is that the bone fragments can shift and press into the spinal cord or spinal nerve roots causing temporary and even permanent neurologic damage.
The healing time for any type of typical bone fracture is still six to eight weeks. For a long time, bed rest was routinely recommended for this condition. Bracing has been used to keep the spine stable while the bone heals. Supportive bracing was also used with the idea in mind of preventing neurologic damage from bone fragments piercing the spinal nerve roots.
Recent research from a group of orthopedic surgeons in the U.S. and Canada has shown that if a burst fracture is stable, bracing may not be needed. The patient can be up and moving with only a few restrictions. What does stable mean? In the case of thoracolumbar burst fractures, if the surrounding ligaments have not been damaged, then the fragments or pieces of the spine are contained by the soft tissues. In other words, they have no where to go and just stay where they are until fully healed.
Even though the healing time is eight full weeks, this doesn't mean the patient can't be up and moving. If the area is stable and no brace is needed, then patients are advised to maintain good, upright posture. They are not to bend or twist the spine. Hip flexion is also limited to 90-degrees and not beyond. But your wife's physician will give you all the necessary precautions, so be sure and ask what to expect and how to modify activities.
If there are no complications, no other injuries or trauma, and your wife is in good health, she should have a very good outcome. Depending on the type of work she does, she may only miss a week or two at the most. If the job entails lifting, bending, or twisting, then she may be off work the full amount of time for healing to occur. Again, her doctor will give you all of the guidelines necessary for her particular injury and situation.
Christopher S. Bailey, MD, MSc(Surg), FRCSC, et al. Comparison of Thoracolumbosacral Orthosis and No Orthosis for the Treatment of Thoracolumbar Burst Fractures: Interim Analysis of a Multicenter Randomized Clinical Equivalence Trial. In Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. September 2009. Vol. 11. No. 3. Pp. 295-303.
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