What is a Broken Back

By Jared Ernest, MPT

What is a Broken Back?

People often ask, “What is a broken back”? Basically, a broken back is a laymen’s term for a spinal fracture. A spinal fracture is a break in the bones of the spine. Vertebrae are bones that are stacked on each other and make up your spinal column. This stack of vertebrae starts at your neck and runs to your tail bone to form the structure of your spine.

broken back spinal fracture

Image of Possible Pain from a Broken Back or Spinal Fracture

What are the common causes?

  • Falls (#1 cause).
  • Traumatic injury/car accident.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Spinal Tumors.

What are some other factors that are risks for spinal fractures?

  • Bacterial/fungal infections.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Cancer.
  • Obesity.

How does a broken back feel?

  • Intense pain at the place of your spine where the fracture is at.
  • Increased pain when you move to include bending and twisting your spine.
  • Numbness decreases reflexes, and weakness may be present as the nerve may also suffer an injury in the fracture area.

What are the types?

Compression fractures of the spine

  • Common with osteoporosis and bone cancer
  • This occurs with a sudden force with the increased pressure that overstresses the bone.

Wedge Fracture of the Spine

  • It usually occurs in front of vertebrae that collapses under pressure and takes on a wedge’s shape.

Burst Fracture of the Spine

  • Caused by severe trauma such as a car accident
  • Extreme force crushing of the vertebrae.
  • Vertebrae fractures in multiple places.
  • It can lead to spinal cord injury secondary to bone fragments.

Flexion/distraction Fracture

  • Usually, the result of a car accident.
  • Sudden, high-intensity forward movement with an increased stress-causing fracture.

Fracture/Dislocation of the back 

  • A combination of fractures and the bones of the spine move significantly.
  • It makes the spine very unstable.

Stable Fracture

  • No deformity or nerve problems
  • Able to carry weight load of spine w/o issue.

Unstable Fracture

  • May lead to spinal deformity and an increased chance of getting worse.
  • Difficult to carry weight load of spine.

How to Diagnose a Broken Back?

First, a complete history is taken to identify possible injury or factors that may have lead to a broken back.
X-ray is still the primary method to see if a fracture exists. Also, a CT scan and MRI may be performed.
Physical exam to include palpation of the spine. Also, tests to determine any spinal cord or nerve damage, such as reflexes and muscle testing.

Pain in back from a broken back or spinal fracture

Intense Spinal Pain can occur from a Broken Back

Do I need surgery to fix a broken back?

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to allow healing of the fractured area. Depending on the type of fracture will dictate what type of procedure that may be performed.

Issues with compression fractures are usually addressed with the following:


  • The catheter is guided to the fracture site, and special bone cement is injected into the fracture site.


  • A small incision is made at the fracture site, and a balloon is placed and inflated to create a space. Next, bone cement is used to fill in this space and even out the spine’s height.

Procedures for more involved broken back fractures:


  • Surgical removal of all or part of the vertebrae. Next, the removed bone undergoes a replacement with plates or screws.

Spinal fusion

  • Plates and screws join two or more spinal bones into one. Usually, flexibility and ROM will diminish after this procedure.

Can Physical Therapy help my Injured Back?

Regardless if you have surgery or not, physical therapy is imperative for your recovery from a broken back. Therapy helps rebuild the muscles that will support and stabilize your spine and restore maximal mobility at the spine. Most importantly, the correct movement and posture education will limit the negative force on the spine.

How long is Recovery after a Back Injury?

In most cases, not requiring surgical intervention, the time frame for recovery is about 8-10 weeks. This time frame usually involves rest, the use of a brace, and pain medication. Surgical intervention s can vary for recovery times but maybe up to 12 to 14 months to reach your maximum potential.

Where Can I Get Treatment for my Back?

JOI has a team of experts to help with your back problems.  Our Spine Team includes:

  • Orthopedic Spine Surgeons
  • Non-Surgical Spine Physicians
  • Spine Physical Therapists
  • Acupuncturists
  • Massage Therapists

Book an Appointment with The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute Today!

Our team of Spine Experts collaborates to make sure that you receive comprehensive and complete care.

To learn about the JOI Rehab Spine Centers, go to this LINK.

To make an appointment, call 904-JOI-2000 or schedule online by clicking the button below.

Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician

Image of Book An Appointment with a JOI Physician Button

By: Jared Ernest, MPT

Skip to content