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Car crashes are the cause of 45 percent of spinal fractures. *

Broken Back Overview

A broken back is a serious injury that occurs when the individual vertebrae of the back section of the spinal column become fractured or dislocated. The most common causes are vehicle accidents, falls, sports accidents or violent acts such as gunshot wounds.

Not all fractured spines are due to trauma, however. In people with osteoporosis, tumors or other conditions that cause bones to weaken, a fracture can occur during normal daily activities. Most fractures occur in the thoracic (mid back) and lumbar spine (lower back), or at the junction of the two.

If the individual vertebrae are fractured or severely dislocated but the spinal cord is undamaged, no neurological damage (paralysis) occurs. If the spinal cord becomes bruised or damaged due to swelling, trauma or laceration, neurological damage may result. That’s why it is extremely important to not move an injured person if you think they could be suffering a spinal injury. Call for emergency assistance.

There are several classifications of fractures. In a minor fracture a part of the back side of the vertebra has broken. The fracture is usually not severe. A major fracture means that part of the spine called the vertebral body (or lamina) has fractured. Because this area of the spine carries significant weight, a major fracture brings a higher possibility of nerve damage.

Vertebrae can break in several ways:

  • A compression fracture is common in people whose bones have been weakened by other conditions.
  • A burst fracture is caused by severe trauma and involves several areas of fracture.
  • Flexion-distraction fractures result when the spine is made to flex forward (as in some types of vehicle accidents), putting a great deal of stress on the spine.
  • A fracture –dislocation is a significant movement of the vertebrae and can occur with any type of fractures.

WellStar neurologists and neurosurgeons are expert in assessing and treating spinal fractures. The goal is to minimize neurological involvement and maximize function and recovery.

We offer traditional and innovative procedures including vertebroplasty. In this procedure a medical-grade cement mixture is injected into a fractured vertebra. This stabilizes the vertebra and allows a patient to return to normal activity following a recovery period.



A broken back is a serious injury. You should see a doctor immediately if you believe or suspect you might have a spinal fracture.

The most typical symptom is moderate-to-severe back pain that gets worse with movement. In cases that involve the spinal cord symptoms can include numbness in the arms or legs, tingling, weakness or bowel/bladder problems. A significant trauma can cause a brain injury that leads to loss of consciousness (“blacking out”). Such incidents require immediate medical attention.

Other symptoms:


  • Sudden severe pain around the injured area
  • Swelling around the injury
  • Pain that travels down the arms or legs
  • Difficulty walking or moving
  • Paralysis (rare)


Risk Factors

One of the most significant risk factors for broken back is a previous spinal fracture within the past year. In some cases multiple fractures result in a serious misalignment of the spine, causing a tilting forward that looks like a hump. This is known as kyphosis.

Other risk factors:

  • Osteoporosis. Having brittle bones makes a fracture more likely.
  • Sex. Men are four times more likely than women to experience traumatic fractures of the thoracic or lumbar spine. But older women are more likely than older men to have compression fractures due to osteoporosis.
  • Age. Age-related fractures are usually due to weakened bone from osteoporosis.
  • Trauma.
  • Cancer.
  • Use of antipsychotic medications.
  • Poor mental functioning.
  • Poor mobility.
  • Poor strength.
  • Participation in high-impact sports.

Related Information

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