Spinal Fractures

What are Spinal Fractures?

Vertebrae are bones. Like just about any bone in the body, they can potentially break or crack. Spinal fractures occur when an outside force applies too much pressure to a bone. In many cases, the front of the spine (i.e. vertebral body) collapses while the posterior portion maintains its height. These wedge-shaped fractures, especially when occurring in multiple vertebrae, can lead to noticeable spinal deformities like a hunched back. Specifically, most spinal fractures occur in the thoracic and lumbar areas of the spine.

Medical conditions that may lead to spinal fractures include:

    • Osteoporosis: As we age, our bones lose density and begin to weaken. Vertebrae affected by osteoporosis can flatten and narrow, causing spinal deformities. Resultingly, applied pressure can cause weak vertebral bodies to crack and lose their height. Even everyday activities like twisting, reaching, or even sneezing can lead to spinal fractures. Read more…
    • Cancer: Those suffering from many forms of cancer can have the disease spread (or metastasize) to the spine. Breast, lung, and prostate cancers are common culprits. As tumors expand in size within the spine, vertebrae can suffer breaks.
    • Infection: While less common, infections in or near the spine may weaken the bones, causing fractures. Read more…
    • Previous spinal fracture: If you sustained a prior spinal fracture, you are more likely to suffer another one.
    • Medications: Certain drugs like oral steroids, antidepressants, or diabetes medications can weaken the bones.Unhealthy lifestyle habits. Exercise helps your bones to stay strong. A sedentary lifestyle can decrease bone density. Also, smoking or heavy drinking may affect your body’s ability to absorb calcium.

What Causes Spinal Fractures?

For some, spinal fractures are the result of an accident or trauma. Falls, car accidents, sports injuries, and violent acts are some of the more common trauma-related causes. Essentially, these high-energy traumas push the spine past its breaking point.

In many cases, additional injuries are present during trauma-related spinal fractures. It is important to request medical assistance right away if you suffer a trauma that affects your spine. Severe spinal fractures could include spinal cord injuries which, when left untreated, can lead to permanent damage.

But, you don’t need to experience a bad accident to suffer spinal fractures. Underlying medical conditions can make the vertebrae more likely to break.

Do You Think You Have a Spinal Fracture?

Have you been diagnosed with any of the conditions mentioned above? Have you recently been in an accident or taken a bad fall?

If you suspect a spinal fracture, then you should consult with your doctor or an orthopedic specialist as soon as possible. Check out the next section to review the common symptoms of spinal fractures.

What are the Symptoms of Spinal Fractures?

Symptoms of spinal fractures can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. In most cases, one will experience some degree of pain. This can be due to structural changes in the spine that affect other parts of the body. Pain may also be a sign of injuries to nerves, nerve roots, or the spinal cord itself.

If you were in an accident, you may have other injuries like head trauma. Other injuries—sometimes known as distracting injuries—cause pain that overwhelms your spinal fracture pain. Seeking immediate medical attention can allow you to pinpoint your exact injuries and determine if there were any fractures to the spine.

Other Symptoms Associated With Spinal Fractures Include:

Neck or back pain occurring suddenly—especially after a fall or accident
Worsening pain while standing or walking
Some pain relief while lying down
Muscle spasms
Numbness or tingling in other areas of the body including arms, hands, legs, and feet
Height loss
Limited mobility and range of motion
Noticeable deformity of the spine (e.g. posture)
Trouble controlling bowels or bladder
Paralysis—a loss of movement in an extremity due to a spinal cord injury

Diagnosing Spinal Fractures

If your spinal fractures are the result of trauma, you may need to go (or be transported) directly to an emergency room. Your injuries may necessitate immobilization with a backboard or a cervical collar during transport. From there, your ER team will collaborate to determine the extent of your injuries.

Less severe spinal fractures due to other conditions, such as osteoporosis, may require you to consult with an orthopedic specialist. However, during a routine exam, your doctor will obtain a complete medical history and ask about the onset and severity of your symptoms.

Your doctor will then conduct a physical exam. This will include inspecting the head, chest, spine, limbs, pelvis, and abdomen. Your doctor may also administer neurological tests to assess how you move, feel, and sense position in your limbs. Your reflexes will also be tested to determine any nerve or spinal cord damage.

Once a spinal fracture has been accurately diagnosed, treatment can begin. The next section highlights common treatments for spinal fractures.

What Are My Treatment Options for Spinal Fractures?

Treatment for spinal fractures depends on the severity of your injury and the associated symptoms.

If the fracture is relatively stable, then your doctor may recommend braces or orthotics. These conservative interventions maintain your spinal alignment while immobilizing your spine to aid in healing. Braces can also help to control pain by restricting the movement of the injured area.

You may need to use braces or orthotics for up to 12 weeks. During that time, you will gradually increase activity with the assistance of a physical therapist. Taking pain medications during this time may assist with some of the uncomfortable symptoms from your fracture.

Spinal Fracture Treatment Options


A minimally invasive procedure in which bone cement is inserted directly into the collapsed vertebral body. This can reduce or eliminate pain as well as stabilize the fracture.


In some cases, spinal fusion surgery may be needed to fuse two vertebrae together with the assistance of a bone graft and other surgical hardware. During an ALIF, your surgeon approaches your spine from the front or anterior side. Read more...


Similar to vertebroplasty, this minimally invasive procedure inserts a balloon into the affected vertebral body before applying the bone cement. This allows for height restoration in the bone before the cement sets in.


Similarly, during a PLIF, your doctor fuses the spine from the back or posterior side. The approach that is right for you will depend upon the specifics of your individual case. Read more...