Sacral spine injuries

Sacral Spine Injuries

The spine is an amazing and complex structure that helps not only provide structural support to the whole body, but also protects the spinal cord, which delivers messages to and from the brain.

When looking at the anatomy of the spine, the structure is divided into different regions.

Starting with the cervical region at the top, the thoracic region at chest level and the lumbar region of the lower back. Injury to any of these spinal areas can cause major health and mobility issues for the individual.

However, generally speaking, injuries sustained at a higher level, such as the cervical region, will result in a poorer prognosis for the patient.

Anatomy of the Spine
Anatomy of the human Spine

Below the lumbar area is the sacral region, commonly called the base of the spine. Whilst the internal spinal cord only stretches down as far as the the L2 vertebrae, damage to the sacral region can still have a range of different effects. That’s because it carries a number of pairs of nerves that are involved in biological processes.

Read on to learn more about the function of the sacral spine, how sacral spine injuries can affect the body and also ways in which this type of injury can typically be treated.

What is the Sacral Spine?

The spinal cord doesn’t extend beyond the lumbar region and isn’t present in the sacral region. For this reason, injuries to the sacral region of the spine will typically have a much better prognosis for the individual involved compared with injuries sustained higher up.

It does, however, contain a number of nerves that affect various parts of the lower body in the same way that the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions do.

The sacral spine has five segments that are labelled S1 through to S5:

  • S1 serves the hips and groin.
  • S2 affects the back of the thigh area.
  • S3 serves medial buttock.
  • S4 and S5 both impact on the perineal.

Sacral Spine Injuries

Whilst sacral spinal injuries are quite rare compared to other SCIs, they can still have a profound effect and take time to recover from.

There may, for instance, be loss of function, sensation or movement in the hips or legs. An injury can affect bowel and bladder control which may be difficult to manage and a longstanding issue. Sexual function may also be affected.

Individuals should, however, be able to walk and perform tasks such as driving a car. Patients with these kinds of injuries tend to lead perfectly normal lives and their condition can improve after treatment, either through anti-inflammatory drugs, physiotherapy or surgery, if deemed necessary.

Sacral Sparing

Because of the nature of the sacral region, damage through compression is typically very rare compared to the rest of the spine.

The majority of the injuries to this area are incomplete and doctors will initially look for evidence of sacral sparing to support this. That will include sensory, motor or reflex function tests that demonstrate where the nerves are still working properly.

Sacral Spine Injury Symptoms

An S1-S5 injury can present numerous different symptoms for the individual. These include:

  • Pain in the extreme lower back following an injury.
  • An inability to control bowel or bladder function.
  • There may also be leg pain, particularly radiating down the back of the thigh.
  • There could be sensory impairment in areas like the groin and buttocks.

Damage can affect either one side of the body or both, depending on the extent of the injury. The individual should be able to walk and drive but may find it extremely painful, especially in the early stages following the injury.

Sacral Spine Injury Causes

Man falling of bicycle following road accident

Sacral spine injuries are less common than other SCIs but are often caused by trauma such as a motor accident or fall. Some sacral spine injuries occur because of birth defects and some may also be the result of degeneration through age and conditions such as osteoporosis.

Sacral Spine Injury Treatment

Sacral spine injuries, though comparatively rare, can still have a significant effect on the individual, certainly in the short-term. There are normally three separate approaches to treatment, depending on the severity of the injury:

  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers can help to reduce inflammation around the spinal cord.
  • Surgical decompression may be used in more severe cases to relieve the pressure on the nerves and help fix the spinal column around the area of the injury.
  • Physical therapy can improve the muscles and mobility of the individual around the area of injury.
  • If permanent problems, including bowel and bladder control issues, are present, occupational therapy techniques can help the individual.

In most cases of sacral spine injury, the individual is able to live a normal and healthy life although some may require assistance and ongoing support.