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Thoracic vertebrae fractures

AnonymousAnonymous Posts: 79,667
Just wondering if anyone's had a thoracic vertebrae injury and what experience they had, how long it took to heal and so on.

I know it's a wide area of injuries you can get, at least from what I've googled, with anything from a simple full recovery to spinal cord damage and ending up a paraplegic!

Anyway, the other week I took a tumble on the bike and turns out I've fractured T6 and T7. After scans and so on, the doctor seemed to think it's in a stable area and/or stable fracture and thinks it will just heal by itself. After a spell in the ICU, then in the ward for a week, I'm released and basically walking about fine. Sleeping is quite litterally painful though and sometimes it's a bit of an ache on the back during the day.

My hope is to get back on the bike and was initially thinking it shouldn't take long, but the back pain is the one thing mainly remaining (had head injury also with concussion and neck pain, but that's much better now). They want to see me for a check-up and maybe another scan around 6 weeks after the accident, which is about 3 weeks from now. I've heard that 6 is about how long to expect bones to heal.

From how I feel I suspect I shouldn't really attempt getting on the bike for a while yet, although I understand slowly introducing a little exercise could be good. Was thinking just gentle rides initially anyway. Might be an excuse to get the hard tail built and potter around flat places.

So any experience with this kind of stuff, advice, etc?


  • Like most questions related with quite bad accidents, and possible severe damage, ask your doctor, not an internet forum.

    We havn't seen the x-rays, both before and after "recovery", and don't have the know how to tell you how to go about it.

    Some things are good to do a bit of exercise on, but personally I wouldn't play around with the back at all. One bad move and could possibly pinch a nerve if the bones havn't healed properly yet.
  • AnonymousAnonymous Posts: 79,667
    Oh, absolutely. This is just a curiosity post really to see what fellow MTBers have been in this situation and won't be doing anything without proper medical advice (if I can get it).

    Although the hospital basically let me out without saying what I should or shouldn't do and just a note that they'll want to see me for a check up. In short it seems they don't think it's too serious.

    As I mentioned the kind of injuries in this area are pretty wide so it's likely I'll not have the same as everyone else, though I'm curious to see what others have experienced.

    I can talk to my GP, but that's a 3 week booking to see him, if I'm lucky, and he doesn't know much about my case anyway. He'll have the files sent to him, but the specialist at the hospital is the main one who knows.
  • angry_birdangry_bird Posts: 3,785
    At least it was the thoracic vertebrae and not the lumbar or cervical ones, the thoracic ones don't have to move nearly as much as the others thanks to the rib cage.

    Bones remodel and heal relatively quickly and easily. For bones like vertebrae 5-6 weeks, maybe longer dependant on age, diet, weight, general health etc. After this then maybe a couple more weeks for the body to re-adapt.

    Nerves don't. Once you've damaged or killed a neurone it's gone for good pretty much.

    So don't do anything until the doctor says it's ok to, even then you need to take it easy for 2 reasons.

    1) Because you need to be careful not to overdo the physical limits of the bones in question or put any undue stress on the surrounding areas.

    2) You need to mentally be happy with your back working properly, I know you say you're walking about fine but when you get on the bike it could be a different story, you may find your confidence has taken a knock, you may need to find your limits again.

    Discalimer: I'm not a doctor, I'm not even qualified as a vet yet. I know what I'm talking about with bones, nerves, anatomy etc. and I know that if you do anything to censored it up further the consequences could be permanent.
  • AnonymousAnonymous Posts: 79,667
    Yeah, the more I read about nerve damage with T breaks, I think I really need to be careful. Though I believe I didn't have a fracture of the type that should damage the spinal cord, but subsequent damage should I foolishly get on the bike prematurely I guess could result in permanent damage. Seems you get a 50:50 chance of permanent disability with spinal nerve damage, or otherwise "maybe" some recovery, but it's not good chances whatever!

    Still, as I say the hospital hasn't warned me about anything really, but I'll wait for my check up and see what they say.

    Just annoying as sometimes I feel like I'd be okay with a simple ride.
  • ClankClank Posts: 2,323
    Can't say for thoracic, but I cracked C3 and 4 some moons back. Four to six weeks for bones to knit is sound (depending on displacements etc), but the muscle damage took a lot, lot longer to sort out (a couple of years).

    But, full recoveries are readily possible if the nerves haven't had a battering.
    How would I write my own epitaph? With a crayon - I'm not allowed anything I can sharpen to a sustainable point.

    Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein are worth exactly what you paid for them.
  • angry_birdangry_bird Posts: 3,785
    When my cousin had his knee op they didn't tell him what he could or couldn't do, he was all up for driving but he couldn't even stand on the foot properly so would have no chance of making an emergency stop or something. IMO it's the responsibilty of the hospital to give you all the information you need regarding what to do and what not to do before they let you leave, even if you can carry on normally the should do it in order to make everything clear to you.

    The spinal cord runs through the central canal of the vertebrae, if this gets damaged then it's paralysis sort of talk, as it will affect the signals to and from any nerves from that point onwards.

    Then you've got to remember that spinal nerves are branching off from the spinal cord all the way along at each segment.

    T6/7 is in the region of the splanchnic nerves IIRC, in particular those that innervate the stomach, liver, pancreas, adrenal glands and the duodenum. You don't really want to risk censored them up. In addition to that any somatic nerves in that region risk being damaged too.
  • AnonymousAnonymous Posts: 79,667
    Cheers all.

    One thing this is making me consider, once I'm hopefully sorted and okay to get back on the bike, is a spine protector. Are they actually any good though in the case of tumbles like this?

    Thing is I'd only have considered one for doing downhill courses, along with the full armour, full face, etc.

    This happened in a normal trail area, although what I attempted to do may have been something that would better require proper protection. I don't know though, not being able to remember what on earth I attempted!

    It's just taking a tumble on any trail could potentially result in a spine injury and this incident has made me realise how bad such injuries could be. So maybe I should consider something that could protect it. If so I want something that's easy to wear on regular trails. But as I say, are they going to be any good?
  • angry_birdangry_bird Posts: 3,785
    I don't know much about spine proctectors but

    The benefits I can see is that if you do land on a rock, tree stump etc. it puts something between your spine and the offending object, and should hopefully disperse the forces.

    Should also stop anything potentially penetrating into the spine. Remember when I was at school, we were playing bulldog, someone got tackled and they had a pencil in their blazer pocket. 2 years in hospital and a wheel chair for life. :shock:
  • yanktanksyanktanks Posts: 60
    Hi Guys

    About 5 years ago I cracked L4, L5 & S1 Base of Spine, I also blew 2 discs which pushed against the spinal nerve. It took 2 years and 3 operations including 6 bolts and 3 metal collars either side on the spine to hold it all back together again.

    The main thing with this sort of injury is don't rush & listen to the doctor and your body, Also start from Scratch and build up your fitness very slowly.

    My back is now as good as new and apart from a little leg pain sometimes, I can do as much as I did before the Accident

    Good Luck

  • AnonymousAnonymous Posts: 79,667
    Thanks for the advice, and glad you're sorted in the end. Sounds quite nasty. I'm certainly seeing this as a slow process back to riding as I used to, even once the bones have hopefully healed.

    So far there's been no mention of surgery though and the consultant was fairly confident it should be okay. Got a check up next week now anyway. I guess they'll do another scan, and then I need to grill the consultant for advice. If he doesn't have the answers I guess I'd have to get booked with a physio. I can't see my GP having the answers. Though seem to recall one of the GPs at my place does at least ride a mountain bike so maybe try and see them :)
  • AnonymousAnonymous Posts: 79,667
    Saw the consultant again and he's happy with the progress. Seems to be not concerned much at all about the fractures. Healing if not pretty much healed already and they were in such a stable state that there's no concern about other things like nerve damage and risks of further injury from being active.

    Main thing now is just all the other injuries I've got which are basically bruised muscles all over the place and whiplashed neck and head.

    They're getting me an appointment for a Physio, but this I'm betting will take months. In the meantime suggestion for some gentle exercise, including swimming and even cycling... but not mountain biking.

    I find being out and about walking is good for the back and muscles. Problem I have mainly is sleeping. I get some pretty bad back and neck pain, though varies which and how much it hurts.

    Though I'm probably not taking as much pain killers as I should. I'm always reluctant to load up on them even though they gave me loads.
  • mobilekatmobilekat Posts: 245
    How do you lie when sleeping?
    Sounds an odd question, but can make a hell of a difference.

    If you sleep on your back try a pillow under your knees, this can reduce the pull on your back and make lie more comfortable. if you sleep on your side try a pillow between your knees, this helps you to lie with your back straighter and again can help.

    With the painkillers the best advice is to take a small number regularly, as this keeps the pain dulled down. if you take nothing, and then the pain gets bad, it takes longer for them to hit when you do take them.

    If you still have a load of healing bruised etc make sure your diet is rich in iron and calcium (for 'dem bones) as this will aid your body.

    Good luck, and take your time now to prevent worse problems in the future!
    Wheeze..... Gasp..... Ruddy hills.......
  • AnonymousAnonymous Posts: 79,667
    Just been reading loads of articles on back pain when sleeping and the clear advice from the experts is to sleep on the side in a foetal position and pillow between the knees as you say. Sleeping on the back is not advised.

    Main problem I have is sleeping and its been tough to get a good position as the neck has been hurting if I sleep on my side but the back is far better, but the back hurts if I sleep on my back and the neck isn't so bad.

    Switched to memory foam stuff now which feels nicer and didn't get much neck pain sleeping on my side last night so I'll try to foetal position plus pillow between knees thingy.

    Been reading also that gentle aerobic exercise and gentle exercise in general is far better for the back than rest. Just that it should be avoided initially when the injury is still bad and then gently increased over time. Obviously get advice from Physio etc though.

    Anyway, battling on. I know when I did my ribs in skiing that didn't stop aching for 6 months, though it was minor after a couple of months.
  • cooldadcooldad Posts: 32,599
    Don't know about memory foam, but I've heard sleeping between two hot blonde twins helps.
    Maybe you can get them on the NHS?
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  • guityguity Posts: 113
    Like you say above, each injury is different and without seeing xrays I cant guarentee this would be useful! I picked up a T8 wedgre fracture in November by being knocked off my bike. This was a stable fracture and I was out of hospital the next day. In hindsight I wish I had stayed in longer because the next couple of days was agony. I was told the bone would be healed in 3 months. I had a back brace for the whole of that time to keep my posture right while the bone was healing. After 2 months I was back at work (desk jockey) and started light exercise. Nothing with impact, just light swimming and building up time on the turbo. During this time I also had a few sessions with a physio so I was doing prescribed stretches daily. After 3 months I had my last checkup and was told the bone was now healed and at some point in the future I would realise I hadnt had any pain for a few days.

    I have not got to the point of no pain yet. I am fine riding and I am now back to racing mtb (gently) with rides of upto 3 hours not causing too much trouble. After a lot of standing or sitting in un-supportive chairs I still get sore and am still very aware of not doing any heavy lifting or twisting sharply.

    Basically, as other people have said, dont rush into anything. I have stuck to the rule of 'if it hurts, stop'. It gets frustrating because once you get to a certain point the improvements are almost imperceptable and you feel like you are not getting any better. Unfortunately there is not much you can do other than give it time and stick to doctors orders!

    Hope that helps!
  • AnonymousAnonymous Posts: 79,667
    Thanks, good advice.

    And @cooldad - yeah, I'll check but even if they do I bet it's at least a 6 month wait. Worth it if they did though even if I'm healed by then!
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