There are numerous conditions that can affect the health of your spine and many of them are entirely out of your control. While we surgeons talk a lot about general back pain prevention, detection and treatment, one of the areas I would like to give highlighted focus to is that of the traumatic spine injury. As the director of spine trauma for a world renowned and very busy metropolitan hospital, I’ve seen my fair share of spine injuries. From the run-of-the-mill to the extreme, I can tell you that many of the traumatic injuries I’ve seen that can cause irreversible spine damage or worse, loss of life, are preventable.
The (Hopefully) Obvious
We are a distracted culture. Between handheld technology and multitasking, there is no greater potential for traumatic spine injury than that of a car accident. Though we cannot control what other drivers on the road around us are doing, we can absolutely handle our own business while operating a vehicle. That business should include only one task: driving the car. One night as a witness in the emergency room at any large city hospital would be enough to scare anyone into compliance on this one. A severed spine that results in total body paralysis or death is just not worth the text or glance in the visor mirror. It can wait.
While we all may be kings and queens of our castles, in the middle of the night we can turn into bumbling court jesters. Traumatic spine injuries caused by falls at home can be the result of a number of factors – but they often have to do with slipping, tripping or falling over something on the floor that was simply in the way. If you do no other tidying on a day-to-day basis, try to at least make sure that the walking paths in your home are free of any hazards (yes, even those little Lego bricks) that could make you slip, trip or fall. You’d be surprised at how many catastrophic spine injuries we spine surgeons see as the result of tripping or falling over seemingly unimportant “stuff” that was just in the way at the wrong time.
Spine injuries can sometimes be a risky side-effect of a particularly labor-intensive job. Work that involves a lot of twisting, bending and lifting may cause what we call “degenerative” spine conditions that can result in spinal fracture over time. But sometimes, these injuries can be due to improper use of available safety equipment, or worse, not using it at all. If you or someone you care about has a very physical job, make sure to use all of the available safety equipment when performing it. Wear the helmet and use the ladder instead of climbing shelf racks, for example. Even if the gear feels cumbersome or seemingly takes too long to enable, don’t cut corners with these steps. Doing so is never worth the potential for great bodily harm.
Again, there are plenty of spine injury risks out in the world that are beyond our control. But I find that the word “risk” is frequently in the eye of the beholder. Statistically speaking, younger men have a higher risk of traumatic spine injury than any other population of people. This may coincide with the widely-held belief that younger men are also often more comfortable taking risks in general. Regardless, their spines aren’t made of titanium. They can still break. So activities like diving into waters with unknown depths or disobeying warning signs displayed in public places should give everyone great pause to consider how “worth the risk” the activity is. Having seen enough disabling spine injuries to know, the potential for fun is never worth the lifetime of pain and regret.