Different Types of Spinal Fractures

When your spine fractures, it’s anything but normal. It means that something serious has happened — a fall, sports injury, car accident, or maybe even a bullet wound. Chronic conditions like osteoporosis can also lead to fractures.

There’s more than one type of spinal fracture, and each requires different treatment. Entrusting your care to board-certified neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Cohen means that you receive clinical acumen and sensitivity to your pain in equal measure. 

Factors that differentiate spinal fractures

Dr. Cohen determines key points of your treatment plan by taking into consideration where your fracture is located. It could be in your neck, also known as the cervical spine, your thoracic spine located in the middle of your back, or your lower back, the lumbar spine. 

Treatment for a spinal fracture should never be delayed, in case you’ve suffered any nerve damage. This can be serious because, aside from pain, you can experience debilitating weakness, numbness, tingling, and even burning sensations.

Main types of spinal fractures

The types of spinal fractures Dr. Cohen sees and treats fall under three broad categories:

  1. Compression fractures are most often seen in patients with osteoporosis. This type of fracture occurs when your vertebra simply can’t take any more pressure and breaks. Infection, injury, and tumors can also cause these fractures. 
  2. Burst fractures are the result of sudden, severe injury like those caused by automobile accidents. You suffer multiple fractures, and the impact of this type of accident essentially crushes your vertebra. This in turn can cause bone shards to radiate from the fracture site and injure your spinal cord.
  3. Flexion distraction fractures occur — again, often as the result of a jarring event such as a car collision — when your spine is pushed forcibly and suddenly forward, and the pressure breaks a vertebra or multiple vertebrae. 

In addition to these classifications, your fracture can be termed stable or unstable. Unstable fractures compromise the spine’s strength so much that it can no longer carry weight optimally, lead to deformity of the spine, and can progress to disable you further. 

Stable fractures are less serious because your spine still functions enough to effectively carry weight, and nerve damage and spinal deformities don’t occur. 

Finally, when studying your fracture, Dr. Cohen analyzes which parts and sides of your vertebra or vertebrae are injured (the three-column concept). Armed with this knowledge, he has a better idea of your chances of suffering nerve damage.  

The type of spinal fracture you’re diagnosed with determines treatment

Dr. Cohen studies your fracture carefully using a variety of tools: learning your complete medical history from you; getting a detailed description of your injury, pain, and mobility issues; and ordering neurological tests and imaging tests like CT scans. 

Dr. Cohen typically starts your treatment using a conservative approach, which includes immobilizing your spine with a corset or brace for a number of weeks. This can provide pain relief and halt spinal deformity. 

If Dr. Cohen advises surgery, he does so because:

There’s an array of surgical options that Dr. Cohen employs to reach these goals, depending on your injury. 

Multiple spinal fracture surgical solutions

In vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, procedures that address compression fractures, Dr. Cohen inserts a hollow needle into your collapsed vertebra and shoots bone cement through it. Amazingly, bone cement is a durable paste that sets where your surgeon determines it’s needed. After it dries, your vertebra is reinforced and your spine is braced.

The difference between the two procedures is that with kyphoplasty, Dr. Cohen also expands your bone using a balloon before injecting the bone cement, in order to bring it back to its original height. 

Dr. Cohen opts for lumbar vertical body replacement surgery if the thick rounded bone in each of your vertebrae (the vertebral body) requires repair. Such a fracture causes significant instability and puts pressure on your nerves. 

During the surgery, Dr. Cohen removes the fractured material and in its place, installs a small metal cage filled with substances that fuel bone grafting. Your vertebral body heals and bone grows through the cage, blending seamlessly with your existing bone. 

When possible, Dr. Cohen performs minimally invasive surgery, which requires only a couple of small incisions. HIgh-tech tools enable him to complete procedures safely and efficiently. 

Minimally invasive procedures are associated with faster healing and reduced pain, less bleeding and scarring as compared to traditional open surgery, and fewer infections.

Learn more about what it’s like to visit Dr. Cohen by checking out his Get Your Life BACK podcast here. He offers sound advice on back pain, health, and the many conditions spine surgeons can treat. 

Don’t delay getting treatment for a spinal fracture

Call our office to schedule an in-office or telemedicine visit with Dr. Cohen, or contact us through our website.

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