A spinal compression fracture occurs when a vertebral body collapses. Vertebral compression fractures affect thousands of women and men every year. Many people do not realize that sudden and intense back pain may be a sign of vertebral compression fracture. In some cases, they wrongly assume their symptoms are just part of growing older. Whether painful or not, compression fractures can lead to new fractures, spinal deformity, and loss of the ability to function.
Are there other symptoms related to spinal fracture?
Is it easy to diagnose?
What are the treatment options?
Causes of vertebral compression fracture
Your spinal vertebrae are block-shaped bones that absorb and distribute body weight and forces. Osteoporosis, a disease that gradually and silently robs bone density and structural strength, is especially common in women age 50 and older. Men are susceptible too. Osteoporosis increases the risk for vertebral fracture. Less common causes of compression fracture include certain types of cancer, tumors or treatments.
Other symptoms related to spinal fracture
Pain is the foremost symptom. Standing or walking may aggravate pain and lying down reduces pain. Your ability to bend forward or twist side-to-side may be difficult and painful. Some patients experience numbness, tingling, weakness, and/or problems with balance. Care should be taken to avoid falling.
Vertebral compression fractures can cause you to become shorter, which may be one reason why older people seem to shrink as they age. A kyphosis or humpback may develop in the upper back.
Easy to diagnose
Early diagnosis is important to help you avoid a new fracture, spinal deformity and/or loss of the ability to function. A x-ray is a simple diagnostic tool that helps determine the existence of a vertebral compression fracture. In addition, a MRI provides more detail about the fracture and offers significant diagnostic value.
Your medical history and physical and neurological examinations are very important too. You and your doctor discuss your symptoms, their severity, treatments tried, and if you have suffered a previous fracture. The doctor tests your reflexes and evaluates you for muscle weakness, loss of feeling, and signs of neurological injury. Sometimes, a CT scan or myelography is obtained to enhance the doctor’s examination of your spinal cord and nerve roots.
Non-surgical treatment options: Many compression fractures can be treated with pain-relieving medication, activity modification, and bracing. A brace immobilizes the spinal region affected and can help reduce pain. Brace use is discontinued when x-rays show the vertebral compression fracture is healed.
Minimally invasive surgery options: Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty are minimally invasive procedures that are similar but different. Both procedures involve tiny incisions and injection of bone cement into the fracture. The primary difference between these procedures is kyphoplasty utilizes a balloon device to create a cavity or pocket for the bone cement. Kyphoplasty may help restore lost vertebral body height caused by a compression fracture.
Other types of surgery: In some cases, spine surgery may involve an open procedure. Open means the surgery is performed through one or more incisions. Spinal stabilization involves instrumentation (i.e., screws, rods) and fusion (bone graft) to join two or more vertebral bodies together and stop movement.
After surgery: You may be released home the same day as your surgery, hospitalized overnight, or a few days. The duration of hospitalization depends on the severity of the fracture, and the procedure performed.