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Spinal Fractures - Causes & Treatment

Causes and Treatment of Spinal Fractures

Spinal fractures are still surprisingly common. Over 700,000 individuals in the US experience some form of spinal fractures every year. Instead of living in pain and taking the chance of permanent damage, contact Joel D. Siegal, MD at Key Clinics.

Types of Vertebral Body Spinal Fractures

Three types of vertebral body fractures affect the spine, including:

  • Burst Fractures – Occur when the vertebral body breaks and loses height like a soda can being squished.  This can happen when a person lands upright after falling a significant distance, causing the whole vertebra to lose height.
  • Chance Fracture – This type of fracture is commonly referred to as a “seatbelt injury” because it occurs when wearing a seatbelt during a car accident. While the seatbelt keeps the pelvis stabilized during the crash, the upper part of the body flexes forward, breaking the vertebral body by pulling it apart.
  • Compression Fractures – This is the most frequent vertebral body break, most commonly due to osteoporosis or tumors in the bones of the spine. Cracks develop in the front part of the vertebrae with minimal or no trauma. These fractures seldom involve the nerves of the spine or the spinal cord itself.

Symptoms of Spinal Fractures

Regardless of the type of spinal fracture, back pain is the primary symptom. Depending on the type of fracture and severity of the pain, most people can manage without any intervention after a vertebral body fracture.  Sometimes the pain can worsen over time. Others experience sudden onset of serious sharp pain requiring immediate medical attention. Either way, most people get some degree of relief when lying down and remaining motionless.  The pain intensity increases when standing, walking or sitting upright.

Aside from pain, other symptoms of this spinal condition include:

  • Height loss
  • Curving or forward sloping of the spine
  • Difficulty twisting the body or bending down

Causes of Spinal Fractures

Vertebral body fractures typically are linked to age and/or trauma, such as a bad fall, automobile accident or contact sport. However, if a patient has osteoporosis, fractures can occur with minimal or no trauma:

  • Bending down to pick something off the floor
  • Pulling luggage out of the trunk
  • Lifting a heavy bag of groceries
  • Taking a wrong step
  • Slipping on a rug

If you have multiple fractures of the spine, more significant changes occur. If the cracks are severe enough, the vertebrae may not support the weight of the spine, causing it to collapse. With multiple fractures, you can expect to experience following symptoms:

  • Additional Height Loss – A slight loss of height is common with a single fracture, but when cracks develop in more than one vertebra, the spine becomes even shorter. With the collapse of several vertebrae, the difference in height becomes quite noticeable.
  • Difficulty Breathing – When a spine becomes severely bent forward or collapsed, the lungs have a hard time functioning correctly, making it difficult to breathe.
  • Kyphosis – The medical term for a curved, flexed-forward back.  This becomes apparent as the big “hump” seen on many senior people.
  • Hip Pain – As the spine shortens, the space between the ribcage and hip bones lessens. In severe cases, the ribs and hip bones make contact causing pain in the hip region.
  • Stomach Problems – A shortened spine can also put pressure on the abdomen, making it difficult to digest food. As a result, weight loss, decreased appetite, and constipation follow.

Keep in mind that with every fracture of the spine, your risk for additional fractures increases.


Trauma and age are the primary contributors to spinal fractures, often linked to osteoporosis and menopause, when bone density decreases.  However, other causes of low bone density and subsequent spine fractures include: extended use of corticosteroids, hyperthyroidism, cancer, radiation treatments and chemotherapy.

Diagnosis and Treatment

At Key Clinics, Dr. Joel D. Siegal uses various diagnostic tests to confirm or rule out a spinal fracture. In addition to a physical examination, he possibly will order X-rays, bone scans, CT scans and MRIs.  

Not all fractures are treated with a procedure. 80-90% of compression fractures heal themselves over 3 months without intervention.  Some compression and burst fractures are treated with a Vertebral Body Augmentation (VBA) during which the fractures are stabilized with cement during a minimally invasive outpatient procedure. Some burst fractures necessitate a more formal surgical spine stabilization and fusion.

If you have any of the known symptoms or fall into a high-risk category, contact us at Key Clinics for proper care.