Spinal Fracture

A spinal cord fracture is a break to the cervical, thoracic and/or lumbar vertebrae.

The spinal column is made up of many individual bony rings called vertebrae, joined together by muscles and ligaments. Flat, soft intervertebral discs separate and cushion each vertebra from the next.

Because the vertebrae are separate, the spine is flexible and can bend. Different regions of the spinal column have different names:

Spinal column with vertebrae

  • The cervical vertebrae are those situated around the neck.
  • The thoracic vertebrae are those situated in the chest region.
  • The lumbar vertebrae, along with the sacrum, make up the lower back.

The spinal column houses the spinal cord, which consists of nerves that carry and receive signals to and from the arms, legs, and many internal organs.

What causes a spinal fracture?

There are many causes of spinal fractures in children. The more common injuries occur when the area of the spine or neck is bent or compressed as in the following:

  • birth injuries, which typically affect the cervical vertebrae (in the neck area)
  • motor vehicle accidents (where your child is either riding as a passenger in the car or is struck as a pedestrian)
  • sports injuries
  • diving accidents
  • trampoline accidents
  • violence (gun shots or stab wounds)

What are the symptoms of a spinal fracture?

Your child may have varying degrees of symptoms, associated with the severity and location of the fracture and whether or not the spinal cord has been compressed. A severe compression fracture may involve the spinal cord or nerve roots, as they are draped over the sudden angulation of the spine. This may cause severe pain, a hunched forward deformity (kyphosis) and/or paralysis. Other symptoms include:

  • pain in the affected area (from mild to severe)
  • swelling
  • inability to walk or move normally
  • deformity or an unnatural angle in the area

If you suspect a spinal injury, call for emergency help and do not attempt to move your child. Medical personnel need to determine the extent of the damage as soon as possible. Immobilize your child's head, neck and spine by padding them with towels, blankets, or jackets.

How Boston Children's Hospital approaches spinal fractures

Boston Children's Spinal Program in nationally and internationally known for its innovation and leadership, offering the latest diagnostic and treatment approaches.  Our physicians with the Spinal Program see more than 6,000 outpatients and perform more than 300 spinal operations.