Conditions & Treatments

Fractures of the Spine

Fractures of the spine occur as a result of traumatic injury, such as in a sports accident or car crash. These injuries occur four times more often in men than in women. The major symptom is moderate to severe back pain that worsens with movement. If the spinal cord is compressed, then you might also have numbness, tingling, weakness, or bowel/bladder dysfunction.

Never try to move a person who might have had a spinal injury. Call 911 immediately. The doctor will immobilize the patient with a spine board and perform a complete physical examination. The doctor will test muscle strength and motion, as well as feeling for tenderness. The doctor will also test for neurological damage by examining reflexes and sensation. X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs may also be necessary.

Treatment tries to protect the spinal cord nerves while realigning and stabilizing the spine. You may need steroids if the spinal cord is injured. Some fractures can be treated with bracing, but surgery is sometimes necessary. Surgical treatments hold the realigned spinal column in place using metal plates and/or spinal fusion. There are five major types of spinal fracture:

Compression Fracture

Only the front/anterior part of the vertebra breaks and loses height. This fracture is usually stable and rarely causes neurologic problems. Treat by wearing a hyperextension brace while sitting and standing for 6-12 weeks.

Transverse Process Fracture

Rotation or sideways bending of the vertebra. This fracture is usually stable. Treat by wearing a thoracolumbar corset along with an aerobic walking routine.

Axial Burst Fracture

Both the front and back of the vertebra uses height; usually caused by falling from height and landing on your feet. If injury causes instability, you may need surgery.

Flexion / Distraction Fracture

The vertebra is pulled apart or distracted; usually treated with surgery.

Fracture-Dislocation

A vertebra is moved off another (displaced), resulting in an unstable injury that must be treated with surgery.