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10th February, 20212 min read

What is a traumatic back injury

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Dr Lauretta Ihonor
Last reviewed: 07/01/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

In this article

A traumatic back injury is medically known as an acute thoracolumbar injury. It happens when structures in your back, like your spine’s bones, cord and disc are damaged.

Traumatic back injuries are often caused by serious (high-energy) accidents, like road traffic accidents or falling from a height, but they can also happen without a specific injury if you have osteoporosis or other conditions that affect your spine.

Symptoms of traumatic back injury

A traumatic back injury can cause symptoms that include back pain, bruising, and muscle weakness and numbness.

This type of injury is a medical emergency that needs immediate medical attention. Call an ambulance immediately if you have, or think you may have, a traumatic back injury.

How is a traumatic back injury diagnosed and treated?

You’ll usually need imaging scans to check if you’ve damaged the structures in your spine and how bad the damage is. This usually involves having an X-ray, but you may also be given a CT or MRI scan.

The exact treatment for a traumatic back injury tends to depend on how bad the injury is and the specific structures in your back that have been damaged. It may include:

  • immediate life-saving treatment if you’ve had a serious accident
  • painkillers
  • braces to hold your spine still
  • surgery
  • bed rest
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