What Is a Spine Dislocation Injury?

Spine DislocationInjuries to the back and spine can lead to catastrophic consequences. One of these injuries is a spine (or spinal) dislocation. Spinal dislocations are an injury to the ligaments or bones of your spine, which causes the vertebrae to move out of place. This can potentially damage the nerves around the vertebrae.

The University of Southern California (USC) reports:

Fractures and dislocations of the cervical spine are not uncommon, and account for almost half of all spinal column injuries that occur every year…The majority of fractures and dislocations of the spinal column occur in the cervical spine because it is the most mobile portion of the spinal column, and understandably, the most vulnerable to injury. Although the lumbar (low back) region is most commonly injured during daily laborious, low-energy activities, the neck is most likely to be injured during high-energy trauma such as motor vehicle accidents.

Spinal dislocations can occur in various parts of the spine and are categorized based on their location:

  • Cervical dislocation: This involves a dislocation in the neck (cervical spine). It is a life-threatening injury due to the potential for spinal cord compression.
  • Thoracic dislocation: This type of dislocation occurs in the mid-back (thoracic spine).
  • Lumbar dislocation: These dislocations happen in the lower back (lumbar spine).

What are the causes of spinal dislocations?

USC further reports:

The most common causes of cervical fractures and dislocations are motor vehicle accidents, falls, violence, and sports activities. The abrupt impact and/or twisting of the neck that occurs in a millisecond during the trauma can cause the spine bones to crack or the ligaments to rupture, or both. The initial trauma or event may cause a cervical fracture and/or instability, which may also cause damage to the spinal cord and neurologic structures. The resultant spinal cord injury and neurologic deficit, if it occurs, is the most devastating aspect of a cervical injury, primarily because it is often irreversible and permanent. The majority of spinal column and spinal cord injuries occur in males between the ages of 15 and 24 years old.

Following are more factors that can contribute to spinal dislocations:

  • Trauma: High-energy impacts are the leading cause. This includes car accidents, falls from heights, sports injuries, and violent assaults.
  • Hyperflexion: Rapid forward bending of the neck, such as in a head-on car collision, can force the vertebrae out of alignment.
  • Hyperextension: Extreme backward bending of the neck, like during severe whiplash, can also cause dislocation.
  • Hits to the head: A direct blow or force to the top of the head can transmit pressure down the spine, potentially leading to dislocation.
  • Rotational injuries: Severe twisting of the spine can cause dislocations.
  • Osteoporosis: Weakened bones due to osteoporosis make individuals more susceptible to dislocations from even minor trauma.
  • Degenerative conditions: Existing spinal stenosis or arthritis can increase the risk of dislocation.

Science Direct notes that “Vertebral fracture and dislocation of the vertebral column are the most common causes of traumatic spinal cord injury.”

What are the symptoms of spinal dislocation?

The signs and symptoms of a spinal dislocation can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. Here are some general indicators of the condition:

  • Severe pain: Pain at the site of the dislocation is the number-one symptom, often described as sharp or intense.
  • Loss of sensation or movement: Spinal cord compression can lead to weakness or paralysis in the extremities, depending on the level of the dislocation.
  • Muscle spasms: Spasms and tightness in the muscles surrounding the injured area are common.
  • Numbness or tingling: Numbness or tingling sensations in parts of your body may be nerve damage from the misalignment caused by the dislocation.
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control: Severe spinal cord injuries can lead to loss of control over these functions.

If you or a loved one are showing any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention right away, as these can be signs of a very serious injury.

How is a spinal dislocation diagnosed?

Prompt medical attention is vital in suspected spinal dislocation cases. Diagnosis typically involves:

  • Physical examination: The doctor will examine your spine for tenderness, and deformity, and assess your range of motion.
  • Neurological examination: This will evaluate your muscle strength, sensation, and reflexes to determine if there is any nerve damage.
  • Imaging tests: X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans can visualize the bones and soft tissues of the spine, confirming the location and extent of the dislocation.

What are the treatment options for spinal dislocation?

The treatment approach for spinal dislocations depends on the severity of the injury and the presence of any neurological damage. Here’s a summary of potential treatment options:

  • Immobilization: The primary medical goal is to stabilize the spine to prevent further injury to the spinal cord. This may involve a cervical collar, a brace, or traction, depending on the location of the dislocation.
  • Reduction (manual realignment):In some cases, doctors may attempt to manually manipulate the vertebrae back into their proper position under sedation or general anesthesia.
  • Surgery: If manual realignment is not possible or there is significant instability, surgery may be necessary to reposition the vertebrae and stabilize the spine using implants like screws, rods, or plates.
  • Medication: Pain medication is typically administered to manage pain and muscle spasms.
  • Rehabilitation: Once the spine is stabilized, physical therapy assists in regaining strength, flexibility, and range of motion.

What is the long-term prognosis for a spine dislocation?

The long-term prognosis for spinal dislocation injuries depends on the severity of the injury and the presence of neurological damage. Here’s a closer look:

  • If the dislocation is minor and there is no nerve damage, recovery with minimal long-term effects is possible, especially with prompt medical attention and proper rehabilitation and therapy.
  • Spinal cord compression due to a dislocation can lead to permanent neurological injuries like weakness, paralysis, or loss of sensation. The extent of these injuries depends on the severity of the compression and the specific nerves affected.
  • Even with successful treatment, some individuals may experience chronic pain at the site of the injury.
  • Dislocations can damage ligaments and other supporting structures of the spine, leading to long-term instability. This may require ongoing physical therapy or the use of braces for support.
  • Once a spinal dislocation occurs, the risk of future dislocations increases, especially in the same location.


  • Prompt medical attention and diagnosis are of utmost importance for minimizing potential complications and improving the chances of a full recovery.
  • It’s essential to follow a comprehensive rehabilitation program prescribed by a physical therapist to regain your strength, flexibility, and functional abilities.
  • Spinal dislocation injuries can be physically and emotionally tough. Psychological support may be necessary to cope with the trauma and adjust to any limitations caused by the injury.

Spinal cord injuries are devastating events, leaving individuals with life-changing physical and emotional challenges. If your spinal cord injury was caused by someone else’s carelessness or recklessness, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and ongoing care needs. At Larson Law Firm, our Fargo lawyers understand the complexities of spinal cord injury cases and are dedicated to fighting for the maximum compensation you deserve. To schedule a consultation with a skilled attorney, call our offices or fill out our contact form. We handle accident cases on a contingency fee basis – meaning we don’t get paid until you get paid. We also maintain additional offices in Bismarck and Minot.