Former President H.W. Bush was hospitalized for several days for a fractured neck that he suffered while at his home in Maine. The 91-year-old is expected to make a full recovery without the need for surgery.
Almost a Hangman’s Fracture
The 41st President of the United States fractured his C2 vertebra, which is the second vertebra down from the skull. Fractures at this location are very dangerous. Indeed, a severe fracture of the C2 vertebra is called a hangman’s fracture because the fracture typically occurs to the neck during hanging. Because the spinal cord is responsible for sending electrical signals of movement and sensation to the limbs, if the spinal cord is affected the patient usually dies or his paralyzed from the neck down.Fortunately, President H.W. Bush’s fractured spine was not severe and he is expected to make a full recovery.
A Long Road of Recovery
Typical healing time for a cervical fracture is six to eight weeks in a brace; however, people of the president’s age may need three to four months (or longer) to heal. Serious cervical breaks require bracing for two to six months. In some cases skeletal traction, a process where weights are used to add tension to and restore the spine, is needed. Many people with cervical spine fractures require stabilization surgery.
Cervical Spine Surgery used less Frequently, reserved for Severe Cases
In the past, the most common surgery to treat a severe break was spinal fusion, in which the doctor would use rods or wire to secure a bone graft onto the injured vertebrae that grow to fuse it to one or two adjacent vertebrae. This stabilizes the area, but significantly decreases mobility, which can especially become troublesome the neck.
If President H.W. Bush fractures the same vertebrae again, he may require fusion surgery or surgery to replace the bone with a spacer or artificial vertebrae.
Osteoporosis leads to Spinal Fractures
Fractures along the spine can result in height loss, spinal stenosis (pinching of the spinal cord), or kyphosis (upper back hump). The risk of bone fractures can be reduced through exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking or excessively drinking, and getting sufficient amounts of vitamin D and calcium. Osteoporosis and osteopenia should be treated by a physician.
Spinal Fractures are not rare in the Elderly
Spinal fractures are not rare, especially among people in their 90s. Older people are more likely to have reduced bone density, making their bones fragile and prone to frequent breaking. While women are more likely to fracture their spines – 40% of all women in the US over 80 have suffered a fracture at some point – men also suffer from fractures. One-third of all cervical (neck) fractures occur at the C2, while half occur further down at the C6 or C7 vertebrae.
Unfortunately, only one-third of spinal fractures cause symptoms, and people who suffer from a small, non-traumatic cervical fracture may not even be aware that it happened.
President H.W. Bush also suffers from vascular parkinsonism, which has left him wheelchair-bound since 2012. The former president was admitted to a hospital in Houston for two months in 2012 for a bronchial ailment and other issues.
President H.W Bush served as US President for only one term from 1989 to 1993. The 41st president is the oldest living former US president, beating out 39th President Jimmy Carter by only four months.