Spinal fractures are different than a broken arm or leg. A fracture or dislocation of a vertebra can cause bone fragments to pinch and damage the spinal nerves or spinal cord and can cause mechanical instability of whole spine. Most spinal fractures occur due to road traffic accidents, falls, gunshot, or sports. Injuries can range from relatively mild ligament and muscle strains, to fractures and dislocations of the bony vertebrae, to debilitating spinal cord damage. Depending on how severe your injury is, you may experience pain, difficulty walking, or be unable to move your arms or legs (paralysis) or impairment of bladder/bowel control. Many fractures heal with conservative treatment; however severe fractures may require surgery to realign the bones and free the nerve or spinal cord compression.
It is helpful to understand how your spine works (see Anatomy of the Spine). Your spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae that provide the main support for your body, allowing you to stand upright, bend, and twist. In the middle of each vertebra is a hollow space called the spinal canal, which provides a protective space for the spinal cord. The spinal cord serves as an information super-highway, relaying messages between the brain and the body. Spinal nerves branch off the spinal cord, pass between the vertebrae, to innervate all parts of your body.