Thoracolumbar Fracture

What is a thoracolumbar fracture?

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 lower back. They are connected to your ribs and help the ribs move when you breathe. The lumbar vertebrae are the five bones between your chest and hips. Lumbar bones are the largest and strongest of all vertebrae.

What causes a thoracolumbar fracture?

Thoracolumbar fractures are usually caused by severe injury to the spine. When the spine is damaged, there may also be damage to the spinal cord. The following are some causes of severe spinal injury:

  • Car accidents: Children may wear a lap belt, but not wear the shoulder belt when passengers in a vehicle. If a car stops suddenly, too much force may be put on the spine. Twisting or the shear force from the accident may push the thoracic or lumbar bones out of place.

  • Falling from a great height.

  • Jumping from a high position and landing on your feet.

  • Osteoporosis: This is a condition where bones become weaker than normal. It may be seen in older adults and other people.

  • Trauma during delivery of a baby. A difficult delivery can cause a thoracolumbar fracture in the newborn.

What are the signs and symptoms of a thoracolumbar fracture?

You may have one or more of the following:

  • Abnormal curve of the spine.

  • Bruising and swelling on your back.

  • Decreased feeling, weakness, or paralysis (loss of movement) of the legs.

  • Limited movement of your back.

  • Pain when moving. The pain may not be felt right away and may begin hours after the injury.

How is a thoracolumbar fracture diagnosed?

You may have one or more of the following:

  • X-rays: You may need x-rays of the thoracolumbar area to check for broken bones or other problems.

  • Computerized tomography scan: This is also called a CT or CAT scan. A CT scan is a type of x-ray that uses computers to take pictures of the thoracic and lumbar spine.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging scan: This is also called an MRI. An MRI uses magnetic waves to take pictures of the thoracic and lumbar spine.

  • Bone scan: This is a test done to look at the bones in your body. The bone scan shows areas where your bone is diseased or damaged. You will get a radioactive liquid, called a tracer, through a vein in your arm. The tracer collects in your bones. Pictures will then be taken to look for problems. Examples of bone problems include fractures (breaks) and infection.

How is a thoracolumbar fracture treated?

Treatment will depend upon which bones were damaged and the kind of fracture you have. Thoracolumbar fractures that are mild may be treated with bed rest. For support, you may need to wear a back brace or have a cast made for your back. Sometimes a corset (binder) may be used to support a weak spine. To decrease the load on a broken spine, you may need to use a walker. A severe thoracolumbar fracture may require surgery to return the bones to their normal position.

Where can I find 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:

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