What is Retropulsion?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 21 April 2019
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The medical term “retropulsion” is used to describe two different phenomena, both referring to something being pushed or forced backward. In the first sense, it is a gait abnormality most commonly observed in patients with Parkinson's disease, where people step or fall back involuntarily. The term can also refer to a specific problem seen in spinal burst fractures where fragments of the spine are forced into the spinal canal. There are treatments available for these medical issues.

In patients with Parkinson's disease, a number of gait and balance abnormalities can be seen as a result of progressive damage to the brain. It is not possible to reverse, but medications can be used to slow the damage. Patients can also benefit from walking aids and physical therapy to help them develop better balance. A big concern with Parkinson's is increased susceptibility to falls and the subsequent damages associated with falls, such as hip fractures. Keeping patients as stable as possible while on their feet can limit fracture risk and help patients complete daily tasks more effectively.


Patients often exhibit retropulsion when they are naturally stepping back, as seen when a patient steps back from a mirror and stumbles, or when pushed off balance. Patients can inadvertently fall or step backward when they are jostled or when they collide with an object. Retropulsion can be triggered by something relatively simple, like a rock on the ground, because the patient's sense of balance is so poor and the body has difficulty correcting for balance disturbances.

Retropulsed fragments of bone in spinal fractures can be a cause for concern. They can impinge upon the spinal cord, potentially causing nerve damage and other problems. When patients are evaluated for fractures, medical imaging studies are used to explore the extent of the damage and to check for complications like retropulsion. If fragments of bone have become displaced, surgery may be necessary to address the problem.

In surgery, the fragments on bone associated with spinal retropulsion can be carefully removed and the fractured bone can be stabilized. It may be necessary to fuse a bone or to set it with external fixators. Patients can discuss treatment options with a spinal surgeon after they have been fully evaluated to learn about the extent of their injuries. If a person with a spinal injury is incapacitated, a designed proxy can make decisions about treatments and care while medical personnel work to stabilize the patient.


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Post 2

I was involved in a bad car accident about a decade ago and I had a major problem with retropulsed bone fragments interfering with my spine. The accident required me to go into surgery and it is my understanding that I spent several extra hours on the surgical table because the doctors had to carefully remove bone fragments around the sensitive areas of my spine.

I am fine now but this was a really scary time in my life. I wasn't sure how I was going to come through it. Luckily I had a lot of support from my family ans a great insurance policy. Without these things who knows where I would be now or what kind of shape I would be in.

Post 1

My father has Parkinson's and he has a severe problem with retropulsion. The problem got so bad that he had to begin using a walker and now rarely get out of his favorite easy chair if he does not have to.

The problem got worse as his condition developed. At first he had no mobility problems whatsoever but over time his balance got worse and worse. Now when he stands up he kind of wobbles around uncontrollably. His doctor considered putting him on medication but it was believed that it would do more harm than good.

This really is a terrible disease and I have a ton of sympathy for those who live with it and for those who care for those who live with it. It is so hard to watch someone you love deteriorate right in front of you eyes. I hope that we all stay strong as we navigate this difficult time.

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