What is a Jefferson Fracture?
A Jefferson fracture is a serious injury of the spinal column. Specifically, this is a bone fracture of the atlas, which is the first vertebrae of the cervical spine. It rests just below the base of the skull. In a Jefferson fracture, the atlas (C1) bursts following a traumatic accident. The atlas is a unique cervical vertebra because it is in the shape of a ring. The axis, which is the second cervical vertebrae, inserts into the atlas, providing protection and stability to the spinal cord. In a burst fracture, the atlas is broken into several pieces, placing both the axis and the rest of the spinal cord at risk. Because this is such a significant injury, it is essential for everyone to understand how a Jefferson fracture occurs and how it is treated. With proper treatment, many people can make a full recovery.
The Mechanism of a Jefferson Fracture
A Jefferson fracture occurs when a significant axial load is placed on the spinal column. This axial load is applied to the top of the head or neck, delivering a large impact cord down the length of the spinal column. As a result, severe compression of the cervical spine occurs, causing a burst fracture of the first cervical vertebra.
Some of the most common causes of a burst fracture include auto accidents, fall injuries, and diving accidents. In an auto accident, people can strike their head on the steering wheel or pavement. This delivers an axial load down the spinal column, causing a burst fracture of the atlas. Diving accidents and fall injuries can also place an axial load at the top of the spinal column, causing the same injury.
Because of the severity of this mechanism, a Jefferson fracture is also associated with other injuries. These injuries can lead to significant complications.
Commonly Associated Injuries
If someone has been diagnosed with a Jefferson fracture, the doctor is going to look for other associated injuries as well. Some of these include:
- Injuries to the Spinal Cord: It is possible that one of the bone fragments from the cervical vertebrae may move into the spinal cord, damaging one or more of the spinal nerves. This is commonly called a retropulsed fragment.
- Damage to Other Vertebrae: About half of all Jefferson fractures will be associated with damage to other cervical vertebrae. The most commonly damaged vertebra is the axis, which rests directly beneath the atlas.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries: Because of the mechanism of this fracture, a significant number of people will also be diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. This may include a concussion, a cerebral contusion, or even a brain bleed.
- Vertebral Artery Injury: One of the most critical blood vessels is the vertebral artery. This blood vessel supplies oxygen and nutrients to the cells of the spinal cord. In a fracture of C1, this blood vessel might be damaged. This can place the spinal column at risk.
It is important to look for these other associated injuries. Once the fracture has been diagnosed, treatment will begin.
Treatment of a Jefferson Bone Fracture
The treatment of a Jefferson fracture depends on the severity of the injury. Usually, doctors will check the spinal column with a CT scan or an MRI. The doctor will also look at the cervical ligaments that connect the spinal vertebrae together. If this ligament is intact, the injury is considered stable. In this case, the individual will be placed in a hard cervical collar so that the fractures can heal appropriately.
If this ligament has been damaged (or if severe associated injuries have been diagnosed), then the injury is considered unstable. Without the ligament, the vertebrae may move back and forth, damaging the spinal cord. In this case, the individual will require surgery to repair the cervical ligament and immobilize the spinal vertebrae. After this, the individual will be placed in a cervical collar so that the ligament and the vertebrae can heal properly. With the help of physical therapists and medical specialists, most people can make a full recovery.
Watch YouTube Video: Jefferson Fracture. The following video provides everything you need to know about a Jefferson fracture.
Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer
I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento personal injury lawyer. A Jefferson fracture is a serious injury that takes place in the spine. If someone you know has developed a severe spinal injury due to the negligence of another person or entity, please call me today at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly legal advice.