Burst Fracture: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment


Burst fracture refers to an injury to the spine. When a vertebra of the spine is crushed in all directions, the condition is called a burst fracture. In total, we have 33 bones or vertebrae in our spine. The vertebrae and the discs between them provide the passage for the spinal cord and nerves while the spinal cord is responsible for connecting the nerves of the body to the brain. If the burst fracture happens, people with the condition develop an abnormal angulation that causes pain and leads to other neurological complications. Basically, the spine has two sections, the vertebral arch, and the vertebral body. The vertebral arch forms the roof of the spinal canal and protects the spinal cord. The vertebral body is the cylindrically shaped section of the vertebral bone and provides support to the spine. In a burst fracture, the vertebral body is crushed.

Worldwide, there are about 5 million new vertebral fractures on an annual basis. In the United States, it is estimated that about 700,000 people have vertebral fractures each year. Vertebral fractures can happen to both men and women. Overall, burst fractures account for 14% of all spinal injuries.



Typically, burst fracture is the result of severe injury to the spine such as motor vehicle accident and a severe fall. When the vertebral body is compressed by a great deal of force, a vertebra may shatter.

However, if the force only crashes the front part of the spine, the spine tends to become wedge-shaped and is called a compression fracture. Compression fracture causes relatively fewer damages to the spine than burst fracture.

If the vertebral body is crushed in all directions, more severe injuries may occur. The individual with burst fracture experience may not only feel pain but also may develop neurological problems. Moreover, deformity like kyphosis may occur, which may require surgical treatment in some severe cases. The bony fragments may spread out toward the spinal cord as well, which can injure the spinal cord and may lead to paralysis or partial neurological injury.



For people with burst fracture, they are likely to have the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain: usually, burst fractures cause severe pain in the back and when people with the condition make movements, the pain has a tendency to be worse. However, when the nerves are damaged, it is possible for the patient to feel pain in the legs as well.
  • Having trouble making movements: most patients can’t walk right away after the injury.
  • Fatigue and numbness
  • Tingling in the legs
  • Inability to empty the bowel or bladder properly when the spinal cord is injured



People with burst fracture should get medical treatment as soon as possible. It is worth mentioning that patients at the scene of the accident should keep lying flat, instead of a seated position because bending the body can worsen the patient’s neurologic injury.

When the patient is at the hospital, the doctor may base a diagnosis on X-rays and CAT scan results. Other tests for the patient also may be necessary:

  • MRI scan to check the amount of soft tissue damage, bleeding or ligament injury
  • CT scan
  • Physical examination to check if there is a spinal deformity, angulation of the spine and so on
  • Neurologic examination to see if the muscle strength, sensation, and reflexes of the lower extremities function well
  • Bowel and bladder sphincter control test to see if the spinal cord is involved



Typically, people with burst fracture need to receive immediate medical care. Depending on the specific situation of the burst fracture, treatment method may vary.

If the burst fracture is not severe and the neurological injury is not serious, the doctor may use a nonsurgical approach. But if there is pressure on the spinal cord and/or the nerve roots, the doctor often recommends surgical treatment. A spinal fusion may be performed by the doctor so that the spine can be stabilized and the pressure on the spinal cord and/or the nerve roots can be lifted. Also, a decompression surgery, a corpectomy and a laminectomy may be performed. In that surgical procedure, any bone material touching the spinal cord, or the nerve roots are removed.

Overall, the surgery needs to vary according to different people’s situation.


Keywords: burst fracture.


Related Posts:

What Is A Fracture?

What Are the Symptoms of A Fracture?

What Is a Treatment for Spinal Fracture?


* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.