Spinal Trauma

When you come to the University of Michigan Health Comprehensive Spine Program for a traumatic injury to your spine, you’ll be evaluated by our multidisciplinary team of specialists who will work with you to determine a personalized treatment plan. Our goal is to offer the most advanced and least invasive treatment to help improve your quality of life.

What is Spinal Trauma?

Spinal trauma is damage to the spine caused by an injury resulting from such incidents as a vehicle accident, a severe fall, a sports injury, heavy lifting or other physical stress. Trauma to the spine could result in a fracture or subluxation, which is a misalignment of the vertebrae that results in pressure on the nerves.

Trauma can occur anywhere on the spine, including the neck (cervical spine), upper back (thoracic spine), lower back (lumbar spine) and the section of connected bone at the very bottom of the spinal column called the sacrum.


The most common symptoms of spinal trauma are pain followed by numbness in the legs or arms, limited movement or paralysis.


Our collaborative team begins by conducting a complete medical history and physical exam, including understanding the circumstances surrounding the accident or injury. Based on our findings, advanced testing might include:

  • Imaging, such as X-rays, CT scans or an MRI 
  • An EMG (nerve test) to determine which nerves are functioning and the severity of the damage

After your diagnostic tests are completed, our specialists will talk with you about your treatment options.


Non-Surgical Treatment

Conservative treatment often includes:

  • Physical therapy
  • Pain management, including anti-inflammatory and pain medications, muscle relaxers, and steroid injections
  • Traditional medicine combined with holistic therapies such as yoga, healing touch and acupuncture
  • Bracing

Surgical Treatment

Surgery may be considered for patients who do not improve with conservative treatment. Surgical treatments include:

  • Posterolateral Fusion: A procedure in which a series of screws and rods, combined with a bone graft, are used to fuse two or more vertebrae to stabilize the spine.
  • Lumbar Vertebral Body Replacement: If a vertebral body (a thick bony structure that gives strength and protection to the spine and spinal cord) has been severely fractured in a traumatic event, the affected area may be replaced with a stabilized metal cage filled with bone graft material, then anchored to the adjacent healthy vertebra
  • Kyphoplasty: A procedure in which a hollow needle is inserted into the spine with an attached balloon that is then gently inflated inside the fractured vertebrae. The balloon is filled with a bone cement mixture that will stabilize and strengthen the vertebrae and restore height.

Contact Us

You're about to make an important decision, and we want to help you make a good one. Our staff will be glad to talk with you about your options and how we can help. Please visit our Make an Appointment page for more information.