A spinal fracture is a serious injury in which one or more vertebra in the spinal column collapse, causing the vertebra, which normally has a rectangular shape, to become compressed. It is typically caused by high-impact trauma, such as a car accident or long-distance fall, but can also be caused by osteoporosis in older individuals with weakened bones. The most common spinal fracture occurs in the thoracic (mid-back) and lumbar (lower back) spine or where the thoracic and lumbar connect (thoracolumbar junction).
Fracture-dislocation occurs when a vertebra is displaced from an adjacent vertebra, often severely compressing the spinal cord. Fracture dislocations is caused by high force injuries (auto accidents, falls) and are often accompanied by spinal cord damage and paralysis. In addition, there is severe bony injury with an unstable spine.
Axial burst fracture: occurs when a vertebra breaks from high-energy trauma, such as a car accident or fall from height, causing parts of the vertebrae to shatter. These fractures are often regarded as more severe than compression fractures because of the long-term neurological damage that can result. A burst fracture involves compression of the vertebrae and the presence of bony fragments in the spinal canal. In about 1/2 of the cases there is spinal cord damage with complete or partial paralysis.
Surgery may be required to treat a spinal fracture that is unstable, causes damage to the spinal cord or nerves, causes severe loss of vertebral height or if the fracture extends through the spinal discs. The goal of surgery is to fit the bones together and safely remove any fragments compressing the spinal cord or nerves.