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Spinal Fracture Types

A fracture is a break in a bone. With spinal fractures, one of the bones of the spine (vertebra) is affected. It’s possible to have a fracture and not be aware of it. However, some breaks affect nerves or the structure of the spine. Often occurring due to motor vehicle accidents, sports-related injuries, hard falls, or progressive conditions affecting bone strength, spinal fractures are classified based on the severity of the break and the type of damage that usually occurs.

1. Compression Fractures

Typically resulting in a 15-20 percent decrease in vertebral bone height, a compression fracture occurs when bones of the spine have been weakened by other conditions such as osteoporosis or bone cancer. A vertebra already affected by other structural issues may develop a break from extreme pressure or a sudden hard or forceful impact.

2. Wedge Fractures

Usually occurring in the thoracic spine (upper and middle back), a wedge fracture is a variation on a compression fracture affecting the anterior (front) part of a vertebra. The resulting collapse of the vertebra produces a wedge-like appearance. Wedge fractures are considered serious if adjacent vertebrae are affected or if the wedging is 50 percent or more.

3. Burst Fractures

Extreme force like what may be experienced during a car accident or similar hard impact may result in a burst fracture. With this type of fracture, the entire vertebra is broken in multiple places. Bony fragments sometimes dislodge and affect the spinal cord itself or nearby nerve roots.

4. Flexion-Distraction Fractures

Also referred to as a Chance fracture (after G.Q. Chance, who first described it), a flexion-distraction fracture may occur when your body is forced forward. The strong forward thrust of the backbone literally pulls the vertebra apart. It may happen when an individual is restrained in a car by a seat belt and thrust forward above the waist.

5. Fracture-Dislocation Fractures

If any of the fractures mentioned above causes one or more of the bones of the spine to move, it’s called a fracture-dislocation. Fractures of this nature often make the spine unstable.

Other Fracture Classifications

  • Stable fractures – Spinal fractures considered “stable” don’t affect the overall function of the spine.
  • Unstable fractures – These types of fractures make it difficult for the spine to function or distribute weight effectively. If not treated right away, unstable fractures may lead to deformities or damage to the spine and adjacent structures.
  • Minor fractures – The back (posterior) part of a vertebra is affected by a minor fracture. Breaks like this are considered minor because the part of the vertebra that’s damaged isn’t essential to the spine’s stability. Minor fractures are the ones that often heal with little or no intervention.
  • Major fractures – A stub of bone connecting the lamina (the covering protecting the back of the spinal cord) to a vertebral body that forms a vertebra’s arch is damaged or weakened with a major fracture. Damage like this can affect spinal alignment.

Some Los Angeles spine surgeons categorize fractures based on the Denis classification method, which divides the side of the spine into back, front, and middle parts. Patients sometimes find it easier to understand the nature of their fracture based on this way of describing it.

Regardless of the type of fracture involved, any break that contributes to persistent discomfort should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Many patients respond well to conservative treatments for spinal fractures, although surgery is sometimes necessary to restore vertebral height. Whether the fracture requires a fusion procedure or an alternative to spinal fusion surgery, Los Angeles residents can rely on Dr. Bae at The Spine Institute to diagnose the source of their pain and help them find relief. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an in-person evaluation.