Post-Traumatic Kyphosis &
What is Post-Traumatic Kyphosis?
Post-Traumatic Kyphosis (PTK) is a condition that results from a serious injury or trauma. The condition can stem from injuries such as sudden falls or motor vehicle accidents. When the impact from trauma occurs, it can cause compression fractures and/or dislocation (spondylolisthesis) of the vertebrae. In some cases, these injuries can lead to a kyphotic deformity—an abnormal curve of the spine. This is only exacerbated when the injury is not treated within an appropriate period of time.
It is easier to understand the effect of these injuries by examining our spinal anatomy. Essentially, the spine is a series of bony blocks (vertebrae) which are connected by facets joints that allow for spinal movement. Between these blocks are vertebrae, which provide cushioning and protection. Lastly, the spinal cord runs through the spinal canal, which serves as a passageway created by these vertebrae.
PTK may occur anywhere between the lower lumbar region all the way up to the cervical spine. Under normal circumstances, the typical curve of the spine measures between 40-50 degrees. This, however, is not the case in patients with PTK. Vertebral fractures can lead to a spinal deformity that experts refer to as wedge-shaped vertebrae. Wedge-shaped vertebrae are unusually angular, and they result in spinal deformity, pain, and a limited range of motion.
How Do I Know If I Have The Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Kyphosis (PTK)?
Because PTK is a trauma-induced condition, pain is usually the primary symptom. In many cases, trauma patients often have multiple injuries, so it is important that they undergo a thorough evaluation. It may be necessary for a doctor to examine other areas, such as the head or abdomen. Many doctors will also give a neurologic assessment in case any neurological deficits are present. In general, symptoms of PTK include:
- Back/Neck Pain: Back pain may be accompanied by an inability to stand erect. Similarly, neck pain can also result from the patient’s effort to compensate for this.
- Abdominal Lordosis: Some patients may try to compensate for their kyphosis by excessively arching both the lower and cervical spine. When this occurs, the muscles are overused in order to maintain proper alignment.
- Satiety: In some cases, the abnormal curve of the spine presses the abdominal contents up against the diaphragm. When this occurs, patients may feel full more quickly than normal while eating.
- Breathing Problems: In severe cases, PTK can put pressure on the lungs.
- Physical Deformity: As with normal cases of kyphosis, PTK may cause a variety of changes in the patient’s appearance. Examples include shoulder height difference, forward head posture, excessive rounding of the shoulders, and more.
If you have recently suffered a traumatic injury to the neck or spine, please seek out medical care immediately. Your condition may gradually worsen if left untreated.
How Dr. Lowenstein Can Help
Because PTK can progress if left untreated, it is important for patients to correct their spinal alignment as soon as it is safe to do so. Treatment recommendations change on a case-by-case basis. Factors such as the type of fracture, the site of the fracture, the severity of angulation, and the size of the patient all affect treatment viability.
In some cases, more conservative options are viable for treating PTK. There are a variety of methods used to treat PTK non-surgically:
- Bracing: Braces help support the spine as it heals, allowing a return to proper spinal alignment.
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapy helps alleviate pain, strengthen surrounding muscles, and improve posture. Stretching exercises may also help improve spinal flexibility and relieve back pain.
- Pain Relievers: OTC medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may prove effective in treating kyphosis-associated pain. In more severe cases, a doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications.
- Osteoporosis Medications: In some cases, bone-strengthening medications can prevent additional spinal fractures that would otherwise worsen the condition.
For PTK, surgical treatment includes spinal fusion and stabilization using instrumentation. The surgical approach for the procedure changes depending on the phase of the patient’s injury. For the acute phase, the surgeon will usually perform the procedure through the back. In patients who have healed into a kyphotic deformity, the surgeon may make a two-fold approach through the front and back.
In addition to fusion, some cases may call for an osteotomy. During an osteotomy, the surgeon cuts through the bone in order to restore proper alignment. Additionally, the surgeon may need to remove bone fragments from the spinal canal to help protect the spinal cord. This may also relieve any associated pain. Throughout the treatment and recovery process, patients are observed to ensure that any neurological complications are detected and addressed.
Because of recent advancements in the medical field, surgical treatment for PTK is easier to recover from than ever before. In the absence of other injuries, patients who undergo the posterior procedure may be able to get out of bed the next day. That being said, in cases where the two-fold approach is necessary, recovery may be more gradual. More often than not, conservative treatments like the ones listed above are used in conjunction with surgery. Braces may be used to help maintain spinal alignment during healing, and physical therapy is usually recommended after the procedure.
Patients can expect some reduction in the range of motion in their back if they undergo fusion. However, the severity of this complication varies heavily as it depends on the number of spinal levels fused.
Have you recently suffered or recovered from a traumatic injury to the neck or spine? Are you still experiencing uncomfortable symptoms such as chronic pain or breathing problems? If so, please contact Jason E. Lowenstein’s practice at (855) 220-5966 or fill out a form online. Dr. Jason Lowenstein is a leading expert in minimally invasive surgery and spinal deformity care. Specifically, he specializes in the treatment of conditions such as adult and pediatric kyphosis, scoliosis, and spondylolisthesis. Under Dr. Lowenstein’s care, you can rest assured that you will receive a highly personalized care plan tailored to treat your specific needs.