How To Know If You Have A Spine Injury

Dr. James - Orthopaedic Surgeon in Singapore

Medically reviewed by Dr. James Tan

Your spine is made up of many small bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae sit on top of each other with a gel-like cushion called discs in between. Between the bones of the vertebrae are holes through which the spinal cord runs. The spine provides structure and support to our bodies, while the spinal cord is responsible for sending messages from the brain to the rest of the body.

A spine injury refers to any trauma, injury, or damage to the spine and spinal cord. The spine injury types can be categorised into four types depending on their location:

  • Cervical spine injury
  • Thoracic spine injury
  • Lumbar spine injury
  • Sacral spine injury

Read further to understand the various spine injury symptoms, the causes of spine injury, and their treatment options.

Symptoms of Spine Injury

The symptoms of a spine injury can vary depending on the cause, the location of the injury, and its severity. The following spine injury symptoms should not be ignored, and emergency medical treatment at a spine injury clinic should be sought:

  • Pain in the upper, middle, or lower back that may travel to the arms, hands, buttocks, legs, or feet.
  • Loss of movement in the arms or legs
  • Loss of sensation in the arms, hands, legs, or feet.
  • Loss of bladder/bowel control
  • Increased body reflexes or spasms
  • Numbness and/tingling in the arms, hands, legs, or feet
  • Tenderness and inflammation around the neck or back.
  • A feeling of stiffness and inflexibility in the neck or back region.

These are the generalised injuries that can point towards a spinal injury. However, in case of an accident or trauma, a spine may get fractured or experience severe emergency symptoms. Immediately consult a doctor for spine injury if you experience any of the following signs of spine injury after trauma.

  • Extreme pain or pressure in the back, neck, or extremities.
  • Loss of movement or balance issues in parts of the body
  • Breathing difficulty after the injury
  • Twisted neck or back
  • Weakness or incoordination between the body parts.

Spine Injury Causes

Following are some of the common causes of spine injury:

  • Accidents that involve a motor vehicle
  • Falls
  • Sports injuries
  • High-impact recreational activities accidents, such as bungee jumping, trampoline, sky diving, paragliding, parasailing, etc.
  • Injury due to some violence or fights
  • Infections of the spine
  • Cancer or tumours in the spine
  • Birth defects that affect the spine and spine cord

How Are Spine Injuries Diagnosed?

A spine specialist may carry out several different tests to determine the cervical spine injury causes or causes of injury to any other area of the spine so that a correct diagnosis can be made and appropriate treatment can be recommended.

During diagnosis, the first step is to perform a physical exam. The doctor will ask about symptoms and check for any sensory or movement function loss. Depending on the patient’s severity of symptoms and neurological involvement, the doctor may order additional imaging tests that include:

  • X-rays — An X-ray can visualise the bones in the body and can, therefore, be used to reveal any damage or injury to the spinal vertebrae and fractures, tumours, or changes in the spine.
  • CT Scans — A CT scan can provide advanced and clearer pictures of the spine than an X-ray, thereby aiding diagnosis.
  • MRI Scans — An MRI creates high-resolution computer-generated images that can be used to detect any soft tissue injuries, blood clots, or masses that may be compressing the spinal cord.

Depending on the results of the imaging tests and the experienced symptoms, a spine specialist may diagnose the spinal injury as a complete or incomplete injury. A complete injury refers to a loss of movement or sensation in the body below the point of injury in the spine. An incomplete injury means there is still some feeling or sensation below the injury point in the spine.

Similarly, the doctor may diagnose the patient’s condition depending on the extent of loss of movement and sensation in his/her extremities. The loss of movement and sensation may involve the legs, arms, bladder and bowel control, and sexual function.

  • Paraplegia refers to the loss of function in the legs and lower body as a result of injury to the lumbar spine.
  • Quadriplegia refers to the loss of function in the arms and legs.

Types of Spine Injury Treatments

A spine injury typically involves emergency treatment. The first step of any of the treatments for spine injury is to immobilise the head, neck, and back after the injury to prevent any movement and aggravate the condition. The other early treatment options involve maintaining the ability to breathe, preventing shock, and avoiding possible complications, like the formation of blood clots, cardiovascular conditions, and respiratory complications.

After the early stages of treatment, comprehensive orthopaedic spine injury treatment commences that may involve the following modalities:

Medication and Medical Management

Medicines, including corticosteroids, are often used to decrease swelling in the spine and spinal cord. A spine injury patient is typically observed and medically managed in an intensive care unit (ICU). Depending on the symptoms, the patient may be put on a ventilator to help breathing. A bladder catheter may be placed to help drain the urine into a bag from the bladder. Moreover, a feeding tube may be inserted directly into the stomach through the nostril or abdomen to maintain the patient’s nutrition and calorie intake. 


Depending on the extent of the spinal cord injury, some patients may require traction to stabilise or align the spine. The process of traction involves gently pulling the head and lower body of the patient in opposite directions, allowing the vertebrae to space out and align.


In most cases of severe spine injuries, surgery is necessary to correct the spine’s alignment, remove bone fragments and herniated discs, and treat the fractures of the spine. Surgery may also help in preventing future complications of the spine.

Rehabilitation and Ongoing Care

People suffering from spinal injuries are at an increased risk of developing other medical conditions such as blood clots, pressure ulcers, a decline in physical functioning, stiff muscles, respiratory infections, and other issues. Therefore, such patients require consistent, ongoing care during their hospital stay and rehabilitation during the different stages of recovery.

The process of rehabilitation involves strengthening muscle strength and function and improving fine motor skills. Patients are guided on how to carry out their daily activities while keeping their specific symptoms and level of injury in mind. They may be taught skills on how to use various equipment and technologies, such as wheelchairs, electronic aids, and electrical stimulation devices, to make them more independent and mobile.

Recovery Time for Spine Injury

Spine injury recovery time depends greatly on the location and extent of the injury. In some cases, recovery may not even be possible. The main focus of treatment for such patients is to manage their day-to-day symptoms and help them be comfortable. For such injuries where some form of recovery is possible, the recovery time may span 1 to 2 years with the fastest recovery usually happening in the first six months, followed by small improvements in the next 12-24 months.

Surgeons for Spine Injury in Singapore

If you or your loved one experiences a spine injury, it is necessary to see a qualified spine specialist or spine surgeon in Singapore for appropriate assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. A spine injury can be one of the most dangerous injuries that a body can experience and may even be fatal if not treated at the earliest. Therefore, it is advised to seek effective cervical and lumbar spine injury treatment from a qualified spine injury treatment.

At Ray of Health in Singapore, Dr James Tan offers specialist consultation and treatment for various spine and orthopaedic conditions. He is a qualified and experienced orthopaedic surgeon who can help you with your condition. Consult Dr Tan today to start your treatment.

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About The Author

dr james tan

Dr James Tan Chung Hui

Dr James Tan is a skilled orthopaedic surgeon at Quantum Orthopaedics who has more than 10 years of experience in sports surgery and exercise medicine in Singapore. Apart from partnering with the industry to introduce various treatment techniques, Dr Tan has treated athletes from the Singapore National Teams and professional footballers from the Singapore Premier League and the Young Lions.

Dr Tan specialises in treating sports injuries of the knee, shoulder and elbow joints, as well as cartilage and meniscus surgery. He is a member of the elite Asian Shoulder and Elbow Group and a founding member of the Singapore Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Society.

Qualifications and Achievements
MBBS - National University of Singapore (NUS), Faculty of Medicine
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (MRCS)
MMed - Master of Medicine in Orthopaedic Surgery (NUS)
Fellow of Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh)
Adjunct Assistant Professor | NUS, LKC
Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Surgery, Sports and Exercise Medicine
Head of Department | Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine Centre
Principal Investigator of Tissue Engineering
National Medical Research Council grants
Collaboration with Scientists at NTU, TUM, A*Star, Osteopore & Trendlines Medical Singapore


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