A Broken Back - What Happens?

When an injury occurs in the back section of the spinal column, and the individual vertebrae become fractured or dislocated, the back can be described as broken or fractured.

The section of the spine referred to as the back portion of the spine consists of four sections, the thoracic, lumbar, sacral and coccygeal sections. The sacral and coccygeal sections are fused together as one bone.

The vertebrae in the spinal column are referred to by their name and number, counting downwards from the top of the spinal column as follows: The cervical (neck) vertebrae are C1 - C7, the thoracic (back) vertebrae are T1 - T12 and the lumbar (lower back) vertebrae are L1 - L5. The sacrum and coccyx (base of the spinal column) do not have numbers and each is thought of as one bone, however, the sections are referred to in relation to which nerve roots exit the vertebrae.

These 26 sections form the mid to lower section form our "backbone", and they also serve to protect the spinal cord from injury. If the individual vertebrae are fractured or severely dislocated, but the spinal cord is unharmed, then no neurological problems (paralysis) results. Individuals with this type of injury are treated very carefully while the bones heal to avoid potential damage to the spinal cord and nerve roots.

If the spinal cord becomes bruised or partially damaged due to swelling, trauma or laceration, then paraplegia or other neurological conditions may result.

If you think someone could possibly be suffering a spinal injury, DO NOT attempt to move the injured person even a little bit, unless it is absolutely necessary (like getting someone out of a burning car).

If you are in doubt about whether a person has a spinal injury, assume that he or she DOES have one.

First Aid

The main goal is to keep the person immobile and safe until medical help arrives.

  1. You or someone else should call paramedics.
  2. Hold the person's head and neck in the position in which they were found.
  3. DO NOT attempt to reposition the neck.
  4. Do not allow the neck to bend or twist.

If the Person is Unresponsive

  1. Check the person's breathing and circulation.
  2. If necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR.
  3. DO NOT tilt the head back when attempting to open the airway.
  4. Instead, place your fingers on the jaw on each side of the head.
  5. Lift the jaw forward.

If You Need to Roll the Person

Do not roll the person over unless the person is vomiting or choking on blood, or you need to check for breathing.

  1. Two people are needed.
  2. One person should be stationed at the head, the other at the person's side.
  3. Keep the person's head, neck, and back in line with each other while you roll him or her onto one side.

Do Not

DO NOT bend, twist, or lift the person's head or body.
DO NOT attempt to move the person before medical help arrives unless it is absolutely necessary.
DO NOT remove a helmet if a spinal injury is suspected.

  • Diagram showing a broken back and how it results in paraplegia.