Decoding Spinal Fractures: Causes, Symptoms, Types, and Treatment Strategies

Decoding Spinal Fractures Causes, Symptoms, Types, and Treatment StrategiesA broken arm or leg is not the same as a spinal fracture. The spinal nerves and cord are vulnerable to pinch injuries caused by bone fragments that result from vertebral fractures or dislocations. Sports, falls, gunshots, and car crashes are the main causes of spinal fractures. 

Muscle and ligament strains are on one end of the spectrum, while vertebral fractures and dislocations are on the other, and severe spinal cord injuries are on the other end of the spectrum. Pain, inability to walk, or paralysis (the inability to move limbs) might be symptoms of a serious injury. Conservative therapy is effective in healing most fractures; however, surgery may be necessary to straighten bones in cases of severe fractures.

What is a Spinal Fracture?

As the name implies, spinal fractures are breaks in the bones that make up the spine. Vertebrae may collapse or crack as a result of this. Dividing the bone into two pieces is not necessary. A spinal fracture may be the result of a traumatic event like a car crash, a dive into shallow water, a fall, or an injury sustained while playing sports.

Bones can break down and collapse inward as a result of conditions like osteoporosis or osteopenia caused by a lack of hormones, age, or cancer. In such situations, a break might be caused by coughing or sneezing. 

Vertebral compression fractions are the most often reported spine fractures among the millions of people who have them every year. Spinal fractures are almost twice as frequent as hip fractures, for purposes of comparison.

Spinal fracture types

A healthcare expert will determine the type of spinal fracture by looking at the position and angle of the damaged vertebrae. In addition, if your vertebrae are not in their normal positions, they will determine whether the fracture is stable or unstable.

Segment of the spinal cord

There are three main parts of your spine that are subject to damage in the event of a fracture:

Cervical spine fracture

A cervical spine fracture is a break in the neck’s vertebrae.

Thoracic spine fracture

An injury to the upper back, specifically the thoracic spine, which extends from the base of the neck all the way to the base of the ribs, may cause broken vertebrae.

Lumbar spine fracture

Disc herniation in the lower back, often known as a spinal fracture.

Types of fractures

Here are some examples of the most frequent spinal fractures:

Compression fractures

Fractures of the vertebrae that occur gradually as a result of osteoporosis or as a consequence of trauma are known as compression fractures. Osteoporosis is a progressive bone condition that increases the risk of breaking bones in an accident. If osteoporosis-related spinal compression goes untreated, it may lead to a leaned forward posture (kyphosis) or a loss of height (several inches).

Burst fractures

Spinal compression fractures, also known as burst fractures, occur when the spine is quickly and severely compressed. They have the potential to fracture your vertebrae into several fragments.

Chance (flexion/distraction) fractures

An unexpected separation of the vertebrae may cause a chance fracture, also known as a flexion or distraction fracture. They function similarly to a burst fracture but in reverse.

Chance vs. burst fractures

There are two main kinds of spinal fractures: chance fractures and burst fractures. What differentiates them is where they came from.

Burst fractures are caused by rapid and intense pressure on the spine. 

The strain on your spine might be so great that it cracks several vertebrae simultaneously. A frequent way to break a bone is to fall from an appropriate height so you land on your feet straight.

A powerful force forcing your vertebrae apart from each other might trigger a chance of fracture. When something pushes your spine apart, rather than compressing it, you may have a chance of fracture.

Chance fractures are common in automobile accidents caused by the trapping of the lower body by the seatbelt and the subsequent thrusting forward of the upper body. The proper technique for securing a seatbelt is to wrap the shoulder strap over your upper body.

Fractures of the spine: stable and unstable

Another method a healthcare expert would use to categorize your spinal fracture is by determining whether it is stable or unstable.

When your vertebrae break but remain in their normal positions in your spine, we say that you have a stable fracture. Even though surgery is less likely to be necessary, treatment is still necessary.

Injuries that cause the vertebrae to shift out of their normal position are known as unstable spinal fractures. Injuries of this kind are more dangerous than stable fractures. 

If your vertebrae are fractured, you are more likely to need surgery to fix them, and you are additionally more liable to have serious consequences that might impact your spinal cord.


Spinal compression fractures may lead to more than just back discomfort. They can also cause:

  • Discomfort that increases with movement (standing or walking) but subsides after lying down
  • Having problems with body twists and bends
  • Reduced stature
  • Bending over at the waist

The discomfort usually occurs after a little strain on the back while doing regular tasks, such as:

  • Moving a grocery bag
  • Getting down on one knee to get a thing
  • A tumble or a slip on a rug
  • Extraction of a travel bag from a vehicle’s trunk
  • When changing sheets, lift the corner of the mattress.

Spinal compression fracture symptoms

As the bone heals, the pain from a spinal compression fracture will, over time, subside for most individuals. Up to two or three months may pass for that. Even after the fracture has healed, some patients will continue to experience discomfort.

After a spinal compression fracture, some patients experience minimal pain or other symptoms. Because the fractures may appear slowly, the discomfort may be minor or probably unnoticeable. Others may find that their pain develops into an ongoing backache.

Different Spinal Compression Fracture Signs

Multiple compression fractures of the spine cause significant deformities in the spine. Due to the inability to sustain your spine’s weight, a portion of your vertebrae may collapse as a result of the fractures. That may influence the way your body functions. Here are some symptoms:

Height loss :

A reduced spine is the result of multiple spinal bone fractures. When sufficient of your vertebrae have collapsed, you’ll start to seem much shorter.

The back curves forward, a condition known as osteoarthritis, when the vertebrae compress into a wedge shape. As your body adjusts, you may experience discomfort in your neck and back over time.

Trouble with the digestive system :

Constipation, lack of hunger, and decreased weight loss are some of the digestive issues that might result from a shortened spine compressing the stomach.

When your spine is shorter, your rib cage is closer to your hip bones, which may cause hip discomfort. The rubbing of particular bones against one another might cause pain.

In a situation of significant spinal compression, the lungs may not function as intended, leading to difficulties with breathing.

The cause of compression fractures

Osteoporosis results in the majority of compression fractures. Naturally, bones become weaker as we get older. This condition causes the spine’s vertebrae to flatten and thin. Fractures are more common in weak bones.

A compression fracture may occur after a fall or other trauma in people with mild osteoporosis. Bone fractures may occur in the course of everyday activities for those with severe osteoporosis. A few examples are stepping out of a moving vehicle, making a sudden sneeze, coughing, or twisting.

Trauma (such as a vehicle accident) or cancer are the most common causes of compression fractures in younger individuals without osteoporosis. Bones may become weak and even break if malignant tumors reach the spine and weaken the vertebrae.

Spinal Compression Fracture Diagnosis

Keep in touch with your doctor if you’re experiencing any kind of discomfort, especially back pain, as everyone’s symptoms are different. They could inquire about things like:

  • For how many days now has your back been hurting?
  • Why did that happen?
  • What were you doing when it began?
  • Does it hurt more or less?

Here are some more tests that your doctor can recommend:

  • An X-ray of the spine to check for collapsed vertebrae
  • A computed tomography (CT) scan may show the broken bone and any nearby nerves in great detail.
  • An MRI scan may provide more information about the surrounding disks and nerves.

In conjunction with another test known as a vertebral fracture assessment (VFA), a bone density exam (DEXA) may reveal a compression fracture in the spine.

A bone sample may also be done on a very small number of people with compression fractures to see if the injury was caused by cancer.

Vertebral Fracture Diagnosis

A doctor specializing in emergency medicine should assess any spinal fractures. Your doctor may also suggest the following diagnostic procedures, depending on the severity of your injuries:

  • X-rays to detect spinal abnormalities or fractures
  • Cervical computed tomography (CT) scan to detect structural alterations
  • MRI to evaluate spinal cord injuries and soft tissue damage (discs, ligaments, etc.)

Wrapping It Up

A spinal fracture is a scary injury to suffer since it often happens suddenly or gradually without warning. In any case, you won’t experience any signs or discomfort until it’s too late.

See a doctor immediately if you have any new symptoms; this can help you prevent the long-term consequences of a fractured back. Anyone over the age of 50 or with a history of the disease in their family should discuss their risk of osteoporosis with their healthcare provider.