Bulging of paraspinal line in traumatic thoracal spinal compression fracture

Case contributed by Dr René Pfleger


MV accident. Multitrauma protocol.

Patient Data

Age: 45
Gender: Male

The soft tissue shadow of the left paraspinal line bulges near the diaphragm. Following trauma this finding is consistent with localized hematoma i.e. an indirect sign of a vertebral fracture. 

No mediastinal widening, no evidence of pulmonary contusion, pneumo- or hematothorax, no further evidence of fracture or dislocation.


Lower thoracic vertebral fracture probable.

CT confirms fracture of T12 with slightly wedged anterior part, fracture line not extending to posterior cortex nor lamina. Subtle left paravertebral hematoma is also visualized. 

Incidental note is made of hepatomegaly, slightly wedged vertebra T11, general spondylotic changes, and notochordal rest level T12.


Traumatic thoracic spine compression fracture T12.


Case Discussion

Case key points

  • Vertebral compression fractures VCF are a specific subtype of spinal flexion fractures. They are caused by axial compression forces, leading to fracture and height loss of the anterior part with the posterior part remaining intact. They are considered stable, in contradiction to most of the more severe burst fractures (the other subtype of hyperflexion spinal injury pattern).
  • Symptoms and signs of spinal fractures are often delayed and some patients may not demonstrate any neurological abnormality at all. 
  • While computed tomography CT is considered gold-standard in diagnosing and characterizing the fracture type, radiographs are often used as screening.
  • More or less subtle radiographic signs of vertebral compression fracture may be visualized on both the lateral and anteroposterior radiographs of the spine (deviation of paraspinal line(s) in thoracic fractures, increased interpedunculate distance in all fractures)
  • To distinguish between the simple wedge compression fracture and a burst fracture, the posterior vertebral body cortex or posterior vertebral cortex should be identified; the term "stable injury" should only be applied to minimal to moderate height loss (< 50%) and overtly intact posterior cortex. Holding threshold for CT low may be prudent.
  • By far the majority of spinal compression fractures occur at the thoracolumbar junction.
  • While osteoporosis is the most common etiology of VCFs, trauma, infection and neoplasm can also lead to these type of fracture.


Acknowledgements: Special appreciation and thanks to Dr. Matt Skalski for the terrific illustrations.

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Case information

rID: 29221
Published: 25th Feb 2015
Last edited: 14th Aug 2019
Inclusion in quiz mode: Included

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