Last month, our blog addressed a broken neck, less dramatically known as a fractured vertebra in the cervical spine, the seven vertebrae that make up our neck. Just so we don’t overlook the 17 other vertebrae that make up our spine, this month let’s get into fractures of the thoracic or lumbar spine.
Our Texas Neurosurgery neurosurgeons often need to perform emergency surgery when trauma creates some of these fractures.
Thoracic and lumbar spine
The thoracic spine is the middle of our back. It is the longest section, consisting of vertebrae T1-T12. It isn’t prone to disc degeneration as much as in the cervical or lumbar spine, but it can be damaged by trauma.
The lumbar spine is the bottom of our spine that enters our hips. Consisting of vertebrae L1-L5, the lumbar spine is the most prone to nerve compression and disc damage due to the loads that the bottom of the spine bear.
Causes of these fractures
Fractures in the thoracic and lumbar spine are often the result of high-energy trauma, such as a car or motorcycle collision, a fall from a significant height, a sports accident, or a violent act, such as a gunshot wound.
There are three major types of spine fracture patterns: flexion, extension, and rotation.
- Flexion — In a compression fracture, the front of the vertebra breaks and loses height, while the back does not. In an axial burst fracture, the vertebra loses height on both the front and the back sides. This often occurs when the person lands on his or her feet after falling from a significant height.
- Extension — In a flexion/distraction fracture, the vertebra is literally pulled apart, otherwise known as distraction. This can happen in a head-on car collision where the upper body is thrown forward while the pelvis is stabilized by a lap seat belt.
- Rotation — A transverse process fracture results from rotation or extreme sideways bending. In a fracture-dislocation, the bone and usually soft tissue move off the adjacent vertebra (displacement). These injuries typically involve serious spinal cord compression.
Our neurosurgeons utilize different surgical methods when dealing with fractures in the thoracic and lumbar spine. Typically, they must first strive for stability in the area, as some of these fractures can create serious instability.