Suspected fracture of the spine should always be treated as a serious injury and medical help should be sought urgently. Fracture to the vertebrae, the small bones that make up the spine, may be complicated by the risk of damage to the spinal cord, which is enclosed within the spinal column. The spinal cord is composed of nerve tissue that transmits impulses from the brain that control many of the functions of the body. Any damage to the spinal cord could, thus, result in temporary or permanent paralysis in parts of the body, depending on where the injury occurs. It is therefore essential that the casualty is immobilized as far as possible to minimize the risk of damage.
Symptoms of Spinal Injury
1. The victim may complain of abnormal sensations in the case of spinal cord injury or pain in the neck or back in the case of vertebral damage.
2. Lack of control over movement in the limbs.
3. Loss of sensation in the limbs.
4. Difficulty in breathing.
Treatment of Spinal Injury
When attending a casualty with a back injury, when the precise nature of the injury is unclear, always treat it as a fracture.
1. Arrange for the casualty to be removed to hospital, by ambulance, as soon as possible.
2. Support the casualty by gently steadying the head with your hands (over the ears). If someone else is present ask them to place rolled-up clothing, blankets and towels around the trunk of the body or, if you suspect a neck injury, on either side of the neck and shoulders. Ensure that you maintain support of the victim's head at all times. Cover the victim with a blanket and keep him or her as comfortable as possible.
3. If the victim has to be turned onto his back because he requires resuscitation or needs to be moved onto a stretcher, he or she must be supported at the head and neck, the shoulders, the waist and the legs to ensure that the head, neck, torso and toes are kept in alignment.
4. The casualty should always be carried any distance on a rigid stretcher or board with the limbs gently supported.
5. With any suspected spinal injury always observe the casualty and be prepared to administer artificial ventilation if breathing ceases, or to place the victim in the recovery position if he or she becomes conscious.
Articulating joints in the body, such as the shoulder or hip, are held together by strong strips of tissue called ligaments. The ligaments generally hold the joint in the correct position and ensure its correct movement, but occasionally violent movement or injury can tear the ligament, thus permitting dislocation or displacement of the bone. Contrary to popular belief, no attempt should be made to replace the joint, as this can result in further injury. The best course of action is to treat the dislocation as a fracture and ensure the swift removal of the casualty to hospital for treatment.