Vertebral Fracture: Types, Causes, Symptoms, And Treatments

Back pain can be due to pulled muscles, inflammation, and stress, but other reasons for back pain are arthritis and fractures. A vertebral fracture can happen due to osteoporosis or trauma like a fall or car accident. Surgery is not required in every case. However, it can be judged only by an orthopedic surgeon through a full checkup.

Here is everything you should know about vertebrae fractures.

Vertebral Fracture

Vertebral fracture or spinal fracture is a fracture in any of the vertebrae in the spine. A spine is made up of 33 vertebrae. It causes mild or sharp pain depending on the type of spinal fracture you’re dealing with.

Types Of Vertebral Fractures

Vertebral fractures are categorized by where the fracture occurred and the type of fracture.

Spinal Fracture Types Categorized By The Location

  • Cervical spine fracture: When a vertebra or vertebrae of the neck are fractured, it’s called a cervical spine fracture.
  • Thoracic spine fracture: Vertebrae fractures that occur in the area from the bottom of your neck to the bottom of the ribs are known as thoracic spine fractures. Simply, upper back fractures are thoracic spine fractures.
  • Lumbar spine fracture: Vertebrae fractures that occur between the bottom of the rib to the end of the spine are lumbar spine fractures. Simply, it can be called a lower back fracture.

Spine Fracture Types Based On The Kind Of Fracture

Compression Fractures

These are small cracks in the vertebra that are commonly developed over time due to osteoporosis. Moreover, these small breaks can be caused by trauma or severe impact as well. If these vertebral cracks are due to osteoporosis and ignored, they can cause a reduction of many inches of your height.

Moreover, they can also impact the posture of patients and their spine becomes leaned to the forward position. This condition is called kyphosis. Compression fractures are a type of flexion fracture pattern.

Burst Fractures

When vertebrae are impacted by a strong force causing compression, vertebrae can break into several pieces. This is called a burst fracture. As the vertebrae are broken into many pieces, they are usually fixed by surgery.

Common causes of burst fractures in the spine are falling from a height and landing straight on your feet compressing the vertebrae immensely and fracturing them.

Burst spinal fractures are a type of flexion fracture pattern.

Chance Fractures

When the opposite of what happens in a burst fracture occurs, it’s called a chance fracture. In it, vertebrae are pulled away from each other with strong force.

Chance fractures in the spine are commonly seen in people who have a car accident. This is to do with seatbelts and not using the shoulder harness. During an accident, the body is pulled forward with huge force. A seatbelt holds the lower back into its position, but the upper part of the body is jerked forward. This pulls the vertebrae away from each other causing a chance fracture.

Therefore, it’s advised to use the shoulder harness as well to secure the upper part of the body when wearing a seatbelt.

Chance spinal fractures are a type of extension fracture pattern.

Transverse Process Fracture

It is an uncommon type of spinal fracture. When the body is bent sideways or rotated, it can lead to a transverse process fracture. It is a type of rotation fracture pattern.


This is the most severe type of spinal fracture. In fracture-dislocation, a vertebra is displaced from its position. This causes severe spine compression and must be treated with surgery. Fracture-dislocation is a type of rotation fracture pattern.

What Is A Stable And Unstable Spine Fracture?

This classification of spine fractures can help your surgeon to decide if you need surgery.

A spine fracture is stable if the vertebrae are broken or cracked, but they are still in their place. The injury didn’t push them out of place. You will require treatment for this injury, but it can be treated without surgery in most cases.

In unstable spine fractures, vertebrae are pushed out of place are the spine becomes misaligned. The probability of surgery is higher in unusable spine fractures. Moreover, this type of spine fracture can lead to complications later if not treated completely.

Causes Of A Vertebral Fracture

Spinal fractures are usually caused by high-velocity impacts like a car or bike accident, a fall from height, and a sports accident. If it’s due to a sports accident or road accident, you should be checked by a shoulder specialist Woodbridge as well.

Moreover, certain conditions can also lead to a fractured back. For instance, the health condition that is infamous for causing fractures is osteoporosis. Unfortunately, this condition can be damaging to the spine. If you have sustained a vertebral fracture due to osteoporosis, the likelihood of another spinal fracture increases by 5 times.

Furthermore, spinal fractures are seen in people with health conditions like:

  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Kidney diseases
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Bone infections
  • Usage of corticosteroids for a long period of time
  • Cancer (It’s more common in cancer patients who receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy)

Some lifestyle choices and habits can also increase the risk of vertebral fractures such as smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

Symptoms Of A Vertebral Fracture

Many people don’t notice a spinal fracture especially if it’s a compression fracture. Because compression fractures occur over time due to osteoporosis or any other condition. The patient may experience mild to moderate pain in most cases.

In some cases, patients don’t experience any pain and they find out about a compression spinal fracture when they perform imaging tests for any other reason.

Regarding chance and burst fractures, they are occurred due to trauma so they are noticed when tests are done right after the trauma. Moreover, patients feel mild to immense pain if they have a chance or burst fracture or any other type of unstable spinal fracture.

Therefore, look for these symptoms of a vertebral fracture:

  • Sharp back pain that becomes worse over time or when you walk or work.
  • Swelling around the area where you’re feeling pain.
  • Changes to your posture.
  • Tingling or numbness in the back. Sometimes, you will feel tingling and numbness originating from the back running down your limbs.
  • Height loss
  • Inability to control your bladder or bowels. This happens due to nerve damage caused by the fractured vertebrae.

Treatments For Spinal Fractures


Braces are used in stable fractures. Braces are worn to keep the spine aligned and help in healing. You may need to wear a brace for a few months.

Physical Therapy

With physical therapy, your back muscles can be strengthened. This can reduce the risk of more fractures in the future.

Osteoporosis Treatment

If the spinal fracture is due to osteoporosis, you will be prescribed medication for the treatment of osteoporosis. This will help in the reduction of spine fractures in the future.


If your fracture is unstable or if other treatments didn’t heal the fracture, your surgeon may suggest surgery. Common surgeries for back fractures are:

  • Vertebroplasty: Liquid cement is injected into the back for strength.
  • Kyphoplasty: Liquid cement is injected, but before it, a tiny balloon is inserted in the back. It helps push the vertebrae into their positions.


Spinal fractures can be extremely painful or unnoticeable depending on each case. However, they must be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Consult spine and back doctors Woodbridge if you’re feeling back pain.

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