When you’ve got a bruised back or bruised spine, this doesn’t necessarily mean your back is covered in those stereotypical black and blue patches.
Rather, a bruised back can indicate something more concerning that goes far deeper than the surface of your skin.
It could be a contusion.
In which case, it needs effective treatment from yourself and/or your doctor.
Let’s find out exactly what a contusion is, what the signs of a bruised back are, what causes it, and how it can be treated.
What is a Contusion?
“Contusion” is a medical term that’s used to describe a bruise. And even though the word “bruise” throws up images of a black-and-blue spot, contusions aren’t caused by torn blood vessels that leak under the skin.
As well as your skin, your organs, muscles, and bones can be bruised – but if these tissues are deep underneath your skin, a bruise might not always be visible on the surface of your skin.
A contusion can cause bleeding of your local blood vessels alongside inflammation, which, compared to other bruises, can have a detrimental impact on your back and spinal cord. As the bleeding must be stopped by a blood clot, a bruise that arises from a contusion could increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, too.
For example, in the case of a spinal contusion, the swelling may start to disrupt nerve signals that travel through the spinal cord and around the body (how severe this is will depend on the injury sustained).
Contusion vs. Concussion
Furthermore, a contusion should not be confused with a concussion, either. Contusions don’t cause you to lose consciousness but may cause tingling or numb sensations.
A contusion may also result in spinal compression (where the spinal cord is placed under pressure). This can display itself in a number of different ways, including impotence, loss of ability in the hands, and lack of sensation in the feet. However, not all cases of spinal compression are caused by contusions.
What Are the Signs of a Bruised Back?
Contusions can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on the type of injury sustained and its location. Common symptoms include:
- Pain and swelling
- Limited range of motion in the joint
- Stiffness and weakness in the injured muscle
- Bluish discoloration
- A lump (hematoma), which is caused by blood collecting in the injured tissue
- Shock can be caused in severe cases where there is bleeding and swelling underneath the skin
- Where there is extensive tissue damage, there may also be torn muscle, a sprain, dislocated joint, broken bone, or other injury
When spinal contusions occur there may be other symptoms, including:
- Spinal shock (where you lose movement or feeling below the injured area, which can last hours or weeks)
- Loss of bowel or bladder function
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty understanding people
- Muscle spasticity
- Difficulty breathing
- Blood pressure and heart rate issues
- Memory challenges
Unfortunately, in these cases, it is often difficult to differentiate between spinal contusion and spinal cord injury. Sometimes, it may be a few days or weeks before any permanent damage is revealed once the body has recovered from its trauma.
What Causes a Contusion?
The cause of contusions can be the result of repeated blows or a direct blow to the body from a blunt object. This can crush connective tissue and underlying muscle fibers without the skin being broken.
A contusion may also occur when the body falls or hits a hard surface.
How Can You Treat a Back Contusion at Home?
If you notice any of the serious symptoms mentioned above, you should contact your health practitioner as soon as possible. But in less serious cases, contusions may heal by themselves without requiring treatment.
There are a few things you can do at home that will speed up your recovery:
- Rest the area, avoiding any strenuous exertion, heavy lifting, or activities that cause pain
- Apply ice to the area to reduce swelling and pain – but don’t place the ice pack directly on your skin (place a thin towel on the area first). Try to do this every 2 hours for 20 minutes for one day, before reducing this to 3-4 times on the second and third day
- Take prescribed medication to manage your pain, or if you haven’t visited your doctor, over-the-counter pain medication should do the trick (e.g., ibuprofen)
You’ll normally need to do this for a day or two after your injury but if your symptoms still haven’t improved after a week or so you should seek medical advice.
If at any point your bruised back feels worse or you experience new pains, there’s more swelling around the bruise, there’s numbness or weakness in one of your legs, pain in one of your legs, or you lose control of your bowel or bladder – you should visit the emergency room immediately.