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What is a Burst Fracture?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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A burst fracture is a fracture in which a vertebra subjected to compression is crushed. It could be considered an offshoot of a compression fracture, in which one side of the vertebra is compressed, except that with a burst fracture, all sides are compressed and the bone may splay out in multiple directions. This type of fracture can be very dangerous for the patient, and may have serious long-term implications.

The most common causes of burst fractures are falls from height and car accidents. In both cases, the spine can be subjected to tremendous compressive forces, and while it is designed to deal with compression, the pressure can be so high that one or more vertebrae are fractured. This usually causes extreme pain for the patient in the area of the fracture, and can be associated with immediate paralysis or loss of feeling below the level of the fracture.

There are several concerns with a burst fracture. The first is that there may be injury to the spinal cord or nerves. The vertebrae are designed in part to protect the spinal cord, and when one is fractured, it can expose the cord to the risk of damage. This can lead to a variety of medical issues including paralysis, muscle weakness, chronic pain, and nervous twitches. The second issue is that the stability of the spine is greatly compromised, which can put the patient at risk.

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If someone is suspected to have a burst fracture, she or he should be kept totally flat and jostled as little as possible until the fracture can be evaluated. People who have fallen or been involved in car accidents may be subjected to “spinal protocols” in which they are treated as though they have spinal fractures until it can be proven otherwise. This is designed to protect the spine in the event of a fracture.

Using x-rays, a spine specialist can diagnose a burst fracture and develop a treatment plan. Sometimes the patient can be braced during healing and this is sufficient. In other cases, patients require surgery, although a doctor may be forced to wait until a patient is stable before performing the surgery. There are a number of surgical options for treatment including fusion, in which the neighboring vertebrae are fused together to stabilize the spine.

Recovery from a burst fracture takes time, and may require physical therapy and other measures. In the case of patients who have incurred damage to the spinal cord, recovery can also include occupational therapy.

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turquoise
Post 3

@SarahGen-- I am glad you are doing well. I had the same fracture, from a bad fall. My L1 (lumbar 1) vertebrae was fractured, I also had a fusion procedure done like you. Unfortunately, my fracture brought on more complications. I was hospitalized again soon after the surgery because of damaged blood vessels and blood accumulation in my spine.

The fracture also damaged the nerves that eventually end up in the bowels and I started having issues with my bowels as well. It's been several months since the fracture and my bowel issues continue. I also have loss of feeling where the fracture was. I do walk around, but it's painful and I usually use a walker for support.

I'm still very grateful though. I guess burst fractures can have varying degrees of seriousness depending on which vertebrae was damaged and how it happened. But considering that paralysis and chronic pain is at the more serious end of the spectrum, you and I have been very lucky for sure.

SarahGen
Post 2

I had a bad car accident last year. The car behind me slammed into me while I was at a red light. I was hospitalized with several fractures, including a burst fracture in my spine. One of my spinal vertebrae was completely crushed. I was operated on and the crush vertebrae was removed and fused with another vertebrae.

I was back home in a few days and thankfully I didn't have any complications because of the fracture. I started walking around pretty soon. It's been almost a year and the only symptoms I have from the fracture is occasional pain in my spine. Rarely, I also have some numbness in one of my legs but usually it passes very soon.

literally45
Post 1

This is an excellent article with excellent information. I like how the article talked about the importance of vertebra and what can happen when the vertebra is crushed such as in a burst fracture. If people know about this, I'm sure they would be more careful when they encounter a car accident victim.

I see news channels reporting car accidents all the time. A couple of times, I actually saw people who were waiting for the ambulance to arrive trying to pull people out of cars or change their positions haphazardly. They clearly don't realize that the person could be suffering from a compression burst fracture.

Like the article said, that's really dangerous. Because if they really do

have such a fracture and nerves and the spinal cord are exposed, an incorrect movement can cause them to become paralyzed! It's so important to leave it to medical professionals to care for someone who has a burst fracture and not move them in any way. I learned this from my mom who is a retired nurse.

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