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Spinal Fractures – What are they and what causes them?

What does it mean to “break your back”? Here are three main types of spinal fractures and their typical causes.

spinal fractures

Spinal AnatomyUnderstanding Fractures of the Spine – An Anatomy Review

Before we talk about the different types of spinal fractures we should do a quick review of the anatomy of a spine. The spine is composed of many separate bones. Each one of these bones, or vertebrae, has a main “body” which surrounds the spinal column and three parts that stick out from that central region (called the processes). Inter-vertebral discs sit between each vertebrae to provide a cushion, allowing for movement without the bones rubbing together.

This image shows 2 vertebrae separated by a disc. You’ll notice the vertebral body (A), spinous process (C), and intervertebral disc (B). Also shown is the area where nerves exit the spinal column to travel to the rest of the body (D).

Types of Spinal Fractures

Vertebral Compression Fractures

The first type of fracture we’ll review is called a vertebral compression fracture. This is the term for a fracture in the main “body” of the vertebrae (labeled A in the image). These are called compression fractures because the bone actually collapses. As a result of the fracture, the individual may experience a height loss or posture change. The most common cause of vertebral compression fractures is loss of bone density as in osteoporosis. However, individuals with strong healthy bones can also get compression fractures from violent physical trauma such as a car accident or sports injury.

Burst Fracture

A burst fracture is caused by sudden significant pressure on the spine in the downward or upward direction. An example would be jumping into shallow water and hitting the bottom forcefully, putting upward pressure on the spine. With a burst fracture, one or more vertebrae break into pieces. These fractures can be extremely serious as loose pieces of bone can penetrate and damage surrounding material including the important nerves in the spinal canal.

Dislocation Fracture of the Spine

A dislocation fracture is when one of the vertebrae is fractured and pushed out of its normal position in the spine. This type of fracture can cause damage to the ligaments of the spine or, worse, the spinal cord. Dislocation fractures are caused by a combination of significant forces on the spine as in twisting, pushing, pulling, and/or compression. The most common cause of this type of spinal fracture is a car accident.




*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery