What Types of Vertebral Injuries May Occur?

The two main types of injuries to the spinal bones (vertebrae) are fractures and dislocations. A fracture is a break to any part of the vertebrae. A dislocation is when the vertebrae do not line up correctly or are out of place. These injuries may cause damage to the spinal cord. There are several types of fractures and dislocations that can occur.

Compression Fracture:

This usually results from a hyperflexion (front to back) injury where part of the spinal column is forced forward and downward. (Fig. 4)


Burst Fracture:

A burst fracture is a very serious form of compression fracture. In this type of fracture the bone is shattered from the injury. Bone fragments may pierce the spinal cord. The injury usually occurs from a downward or upward force along the spine. Burst fractures often result in serious spinal cord injury. (Fig. 5)



In subluxation, the joints in the back part of the vertebrae are weakened by the abnormal movement of the bones. It is a partial dislocation of the vertebrae. This happens if the muscles and ligaments in the spine are injured and may also cause injury to the spinal cord. (Fig. 6)




A dislocation also may occur when ligaments are torn or badly stretched from the injury. This allows too much movement of the vertebrae. The vertebrae may "lock" over each other on one or both sides. A spinal cord injury may occur, depending on how much extra movement is allowed by the torn ligaments. The vertebrae that are not lined up correctly are returned to a normal position by a "reduction". Traction or surgery is often required for a reduction. A brace, halo vest, or surgery to fuse the vertebrae is sometimes needed to keep the vertebrae lined up correctly. (Fig. 7)



This occurs when there is a fracture and a dislocation of the vertebrae. There is usually serious ligament and soft tissue injury and this may also cause injury to the spinal cord. (Fig. 8)


Publication of this educational booklet is made possible in part by the generous support of the following sponsors:

  • Metronic
  • Stryker
  • DePuy Spine
  • Fraternal Order of Eagles