ISSN 2398-2969      

Spine: fracture / luxation


Synonym(s): Spinal trauma


  • Cause: trauma such as a fall or a road traffic accident (RTA).
  • Signs: neurological, orthopedic, other serious injuries likely.
  • Diagnosis: neurological examination, survey radiographs of spine, CT and MRI of spine.
  • Treatment: cage rest, methylprednisolone, external support or surgical stabilization and/or decompression.
  • Prognosis: poor if deep pain sensation (nociception) absent.



  • Vehicular collision.
  • Fall from a considerable height.
  • Gunshot injury.
  • Dog running into obstacle at high speed.
  • Falling object.


  • Fracture or dislocation/luxation.


  • Because the spinal cord is encircled by a rigid, inelastic bony encasement (vertebrae), and because of the relatively soft texture of spinal parenchyma, any change in canal diameter results in spinal cord injury.
  • Mechanical injury to nervous tissue (especially axons), results in physiologic or morphologic disruption of nervous impulses.
  • Contusive injury to the spinal cord causes primary mechanical injury to the parenchyma and vasculature, and secondary damage that is responsible for an expanding zone of necrosis.
  • The majority of the secondary damage occurs in the 24-48 hour period after the initial injury, but ongoing apoptotic cell death can be detected months and even years later.
  • Numerous pathophysiological consequences may evolve including ischemia, hemorrhage, alterations in spinal cord blood flow and edema.
  • These secondary events lead to a self-perpetuating process of damage to the spinal cord that often is equally, if not more, detrimental to the spinal cord than the initial mechanical injury (second injury phenomenon).
  • Putative mediators of this self-perpetuating process include excitatory neurotransmitters, endorphins, catecholamines and free radicals released after the intitial insult.
  • The different injuries resulting from trauma include vertebral fractures, subluxations and luxations, flexion/extension injuries and traumatic disk herniations.
  • Several different types of vertebral fracture and luxation can occur dependent on the combination of loading forces applied and the location along the spine.
  • Forces can be divided into axial loading, flexion and extension, and rotational with each producing a different type of vertebral column injury.
  • Flexion injuries→ damage to the ventral compartment.
  • Extension injuries→ damage to the dorsal compartment.
  • Fracture is more common at the junctions of rigid and more mobile parts of the spine, eg thoracolumbar and lumbosacral junctions.
  • Ongoing instability can result in repeated contusive injuries, additional laceration of the cord and increasing severity of compression.
Schiff-Sherrington Syndrome
  • This results from a lesion between T2 to L3 spinal segments that interrupts the ascending inhibitory impulses from the Border cells in the lumbar spinal cord grey matter.
  • These cells are present in the dorsolateral part of the ventral grey matter from L1 to L7 with a maximal population from L2 to L4.
  • Axons from these cells cross to ascend in the contralateral fasciculus proprius of the lateral funiculus to terminate in the cervical intumescence.
  • This loss of ascending inhibition to the thoracic limbs results in extensor rigidity of the thoracic limbs.
  • The thoracic limbs, however, are otherwise neurologically normal in terms of gait and postural reactions.
  • While Schiff-Sherrington posture is usually seen with acute and severe spinal cord injuries, this posture alone does not indicate that the spinal lesion is irreversible.


  • Acute onset, neurological deterioration in first few hours/days after trauma.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
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Other sources of information

  • Sharp N J H, Wheeler S J (2005)Spinal trauma.In:Small Animal Surgical Disorders, Diagnosis and Surgery.2nd edn. Chapter 13, pp 281-318. Elsevier Mosby.
  • Bruecker A & Seim III H B (1993)Spinal fractures and luxations.In:Texbook of Small Animal Surgery, 2nd edn. Ed D Slatter. Philadelphia: W B Saunders Co. pp 1110-1121.

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