Identifying & Treating Chip Fractures of The Spine

Category: Spine Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: August 24, 2016

spinal chip fractures

Chip fractures, commonly referred to as avulsion fractures, are a type of injury where small fragments of bones are chipped off the bone’s main structure. These types of injuries can occur when ligaments or tendons pull off a piece of the bone where the tendons are attached. Because of the mechanics that are involved in many chip fractures, it’s easy to see why they are more common in teens and children, because their bones are still growing and more prone to fractures when the ligaments and tendons are stressed. Athletes are also prone to chip fractures because the physical movements they make during competition may cause their muscles to contract forcefully. In fact, it recently happened to Tyler Bray, a backup quarterback for the Chiefs.

Chip Fracture Types

Chip fractures are more common in certain areas of your body, like your fingers, hips, and spine. Just like ankle sprains, chip fractures are graded in terms of their severity. Here’s a look at the three grades of spinal chip fractures:

  • Type 1 Spinal Fracture – The fragmented chip is only minimally displaced from the main bone. Rest and immobilization can help the bone heal without the need for surgery.
  • Type 2 Spinal Fracture – The chip fracture is displaced to the point where it causes lesions on neighboring tissues. Although it is less than two centimeters from the main bone, it still generally requires surgery to allow complete healing.
  • Type 3 Spinal Fracture – The displaced bone fragment is more than two centimeters from the main bone, meaning surgery is needed to remove or rejoin the detached fragment.

Spinal Chip Fracture Treatment

We alluded to treatment strategies above, but treatment begins with an accurate diagnosis. Oftentimes spinal chip fractures can be easily diagnosed with the assistance of an x-ray, but a more effective method is with an MRI because it can provide a clearer picture of the location and severity of the fracture.

Most chip fractures are Type 1, meaning they can be effectively treated using conservative treatments, like rest, ice, elevation, bracing and pain medications. Surgery is generally only needed if the chip fracture is severely displaced or the chip has not healed properly with conservative treatment. Full recovery from spinal chip fracture surgery can take between 1 and 3 months depending on chip size, location and other factors. Consult your spine surgeon for more information.

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