Orthopaedic Spine Center
450 Broadway St. | MC6342
Redwood City, CA 94063
For Adult Patients: (650) 725-5905

Spinal Fractures

What are spinal fractures?

Fractures are breaks in the bones of the spinal column. There can be involvement of ligaments and/or joints of the spine as well. Spinal fractures can be stable or unstable.

What causes spinal fractures?

People with osteoporosis, tumors or other underlying conditions that weaken bone can get a spinal fracture with minimal trauma or normal activities of daily living.

Other fractures may be the result high-energy trauma like a car crash, fall, sports accident or act of violence (e.g. gunshot wound).

Males experience high-energy injuries four times more often than females do. The spinal cord may be injured depending on the severity of the fracture.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include:

  • Moderate to severe neck/back pain made worse by movement.
  • In some cases when the spinal cord is also involved, numbness, tingling, weakness or bowel/bladder dysfunction.

How are spinal fractures diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for spinal fractures may include the following:

  • x-ray - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.

Treatment for spinal fractures

Specific treatment for spinal fractures will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

To help relieve the symptoms of spinal fractures and facilitate healing of the injury, treatment may include:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • neck collar or back brace
  • halo vest immobilization
  • surgery may involve vertebroplasty/kyphoplasty where bone cement is injected into the fracture or fusion procedures to stabilize the area of injury