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A spinal fracture is defined as a dislocation or damage caused to any of the vertebrae (backbone) along the spine. Spinal fractures are mostly caused by injuries or trauma that happen from vehicle accidents, falling from heights, high-impact sports, or other high-velocity collisions. 

Along with injuries or trauma Spinal fractures can also result from osteoporosis or other underlying conditions, which may lead to pain, loss of function, and serious complications.

However, the type and severity of spinal fractures may differ greatly. So understanding the types and symptoms of spinal fractures is essential for effective treatment and optimal outcomes. 

Types of Spinal Fractures

Spinal fractures refer to a wide range of injuries that affect the vertebrae in many forms, such as bursts, compression, etc. These fractures can vary according to their severity, location, and underlying cause, leading to various treatment considerations. According to expert surgeons, it is important to understand the type of spinal fractures for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Below are different types of spinal fractures to comprehensively understand this complex spinal problem:

Burst Fracture

A burst fracture is defined as the crushing of vertebral body parts (bones) due to extreme force. These types of fractures are caused by severe spinal trauma, and they are most commonly seen in vehicular accidents. In most burst fracture cases, damage (break) occurs in more than one place. Moreover, the bony fragments separated from crushed vertebrae might pierce into the spinal cord, which might cause damage to the surrounding nerves. 

Spinal Compression Fractures

Spinal compression fractures (SCFs) are most commonly observed in people with weak bones. Osteoporosis is one of the main bone diseases that make your bones weak or brittle. Other conditions, like bone cancer and spinal tumours, can cause weak bones. These weak bones can crack or break if there is a sudden force or larger amounts of pressure, and sometimes even under minimal stress on the spinal column. This is because weak bones can’t handle the stress. However, SCFs might not be as severe as burst fractures unless met with accidents.

Wedge Fracture

A wedge fracture is said to be a subcategory of SCFs and is characterized by a compression injury that happens to part of the vertebrae (usually the front) that collapses and forms a wedge-shaped deformity. Wedge fractures are commonly observed in the thoracic or lumbar areas of the spine. Trauma, osteoporosis, or other degenerative conditions are common causes of these kinds of fractures.

Flexion-Distraction Fractures

Flexion-Distraction Fractures (FDF) are common in motor vehicle accidents or falls from significant heights. When your spine is abruptly bent forward with too much force, it may damage one or more vertebrae. These fractures are commonly seen in the thoracolumbar spine. FDFs can cause spinal instability and potentially severe neurological complications.

Sometimes, the vertebrae become dislocated in addition to being fractured, and this is called fracture-dislocation. These types of fractures make the spine very unstable. There are some other types of spinal fractures, such as stress fracture, spondylolisthesis, pathological fracture, seat belt fracture, clay shoveler’s fracture, etc., and each has its own characteristics.

Symptoms of a spinal fracture

Back pain is the most common symptom of a spinal fracture, which may start as mild discomfort and become worse over time. Sometimes, this pain appears suddenly and sharply. If patients are 50 and older, they are more vulnerable to vertebral compression fractures. This is especially true if the patient complains of having an acute onset of back pain. In some cases, these spinal fractures lead to height loss, restricted movement, and deformities instead of pain.

Sometimes, spinal fractures might not develop back pain or any other symptoms. However, if you observe the following symptoms, especially if you fall or are involved in any high-impact collisions, consult a spine specialist as soon as possible.

  • Pain that gets worse, especially while standing or walking, may be relieved if you lie down.
  • Neurological symptoms like numbness or tingling sensations in your arms and legs.
  • Limited mobility: you may find it difficult to bend or twist your body.
  • Deformity and disability, like kyphosis.

Treatments for a Spinal Fracture

Spinal fracture treatment usually starts with pain management and stabilization in order to avoid further damage. 

Depending on the fracture type and its severity, treatment options vary from person to person. Some fractures may require bracing, while others may need surgery to fix them. In most cases of compression fractures, surgery is not necessary; custom-made back braces and light forms of exercise can fix the fracture. For pain, doctors usually suggest NSAIDs during the healing process. 

The following are the common surgical procedures used to fix spinal fractures in severe cases:

Instrumentation and spinal fusion

This type of surgical procedure may be suggested if the spinal fractures are unstable. The procedure involves joining two vertebrae into one solid piece of bone with the help of a bone graft. The fusion might be stabilized with a combination of rods, plates, pedicle screws, etc. Recovery may take a few months.

Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty

These are minimally invasive procedures that are commonly used to treat compression fractures caused by osteoporosis and tumors. In this procedure, bone cement (called polymethylmethacrylate) is injected through a needle into the damaged vertebral bone. 

Orthotics and braces

These braces immobilize the spine and maintain its alignment. They restrict movement so that the spine can heal quickly and properly. In cases of stable spinal fractures, braces are used for 8 to 12 weeks. But in case of unstable spinal fractures, such as dislocations or fractures associated with the cervical spine, may require traction to realign. In such cases, a vest brace and halo ring might be used.

If you think you have any problems with your spine, schedule an appointment with Dr. Surya Prakash, one of the best spine specialists in Hyderabad. He has more than two decades of experience in treating various back problems, including spinal fractures.


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