Thoracolumbar Fracture


Thoracolumbar Fracture (Discharge Care) Care Guide

  • A thoracolumbar fracture is a break in one or more of your thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. The vertebrae are the bones that make up your spine. The thoracic vertebrae are the 12 bones between your neck and your lower back. They are connected to your ribs and help the ribs move when breathing. The lumbar vertebrae are the five bones between your chest and hips. Lumbar bones are the largest and strongest of all vertebrae.

  • Thoracolumbar fractures are usually caused by injury to the spine from a car accident or falling from a great height. Symptoms may include pain or bruising or swelling on the back. The spinal cord may also be damaged with severe injuries. Symptoms may also include decreased feeling, weakness, or paralysis (loss of movement) of the legs. To diagnosis a fracture, you may need a spine x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or a computerized tomography (CT) scan. The location and type of fracture will determine your treatment.


Take your medicine as directed.

Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.


  • Avoid activities that may make the pain worse, such as picking up heavy things. When the pain decreases, begin normal, slow movements as directed by your caregiver.

  • Talk to your caregiver before exercising. Together you can plan an exercise program to strengthen your back.

  • You may sleep better doing the following:

    • Sleep on a firm mattress. You may also put a one-half to one inch piece of plywood between the mattress and box springs.

    • Avoid using a waterbed as it does not support your back correctly.

    • Sleep on your back with a pillow under your knees to decrease tension on your back. You may also sleep on your side with one or both of your knees bent.

Avoiding re-injury:

  • Lifting objects correctly, and using good posture will decrease your chances of injuring your back again:

    • When picking things up, bend at the hips and knees. Never bend from the waist only. Use bent knees and your leg muscles, not your back as you lift the load.

    • While lifting the object, keep it close to your chest. Try not to twist or lift anything above your waist.

  • Maintain a weight as suggested by your caregiver. Weighing too much puts more load on your back.

  • Wear low-heeled shoes.

Physical therapy:

You may need to see a physical therapist to teach you special exercises. These exercises help improve movement and decrease pain. Physical therapy can also help improve strength and decrease your risk for loss of function.

For support and more information:

Having a thoracolumbar fracture may be life-changing for you and your family. Accepting that you have a thoracolumbar fracture may be hard. Contact the following for more information:

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
    6300 North River Road
    Rosemont , IL 60018-4262
    Phone: 1- 847 - 823-7186
    Web Address:


  • You have a fever.

  • You have pain or swelling on your back that is worse or does not go away.

  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing that is getting worse over time.

  • You have questions or concerns about your fracture, medicines, or care.


  • You have increased swelling, pain, or redness on your back.

  • You have trouble moving your legs.

  • Your legs feel numb or you cannot feel them.

  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and have trouble breathing.

  • You have new and sudden chest pain. You may have more pain when you take deep breaths or cough. You may cough up blood.

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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