Severity of spinal fractures can vary

Spinal fractures are among the most variable injuries in sports. Based on the location and type, they can result in death or a minor setback. Fortunately, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty will only face a short layoff after fracturing his spine last week.

The spinal cord is the network of nerves that runs from the brain to the peripheral nerves that communicate impulses to the muscles in the limbs and vital organs. This crucial network is protected by the bony spinal column.

The spinal column is made up of a series of 33 vertebrae separated by cartilaginous discs. The cervical, thoracic and lumbar levels serve different regions of the body. The discs provide cushioning between the bones that allow the body to twist and bend.

A vertebra consists of three principal parts. The body is the weight-bearing surface of the bone. The vertebral arch is a circular structure that surrounds the spinal cord. The processes are protrusions that extend off of the arch and provide a surface for ligamentous attachments.

Trauma is the principal cause of spinal fractures. Sudden downward pressure results in crushing the vertebral body producing a compression fracture or a more serious burst fracture.

Fractures of the spinal processes, similar to the injury suffered by Petty, are often produced by lateral pressure similar to that seen in a violent tackle.

The biggest factor that determines the extent of injury is whether the vertebra becomes dislocated as a result of the fracture. The sudden movements can severely injury the spinal cord or nerve roots.

Barring dislocation, pain is produced from muscular and ligamentous injury that will improve by immobilizing the levels affected. This can be done through an external brace or surgical fusion.

 Spinal fractures can often be treated with prompt care from multiple medical specialists.