Vertebral compression fracture

Vertebral compression fracture

A vertebral compression fracture happens when the small bones (vertebrae) of the spine are compressed together to a smaller height. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that a vertebral compression fracture, or spinal fracture, occurs in nearly 700,000 people every year. 

Causes

The leading cause of this type of fracture is osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease that thins and weakens bone tissue as people age. Osteoporosis makes bones brittle and more vulnerable to fractures. As osteoporosis worsens, a vertebral compression fracture can happen even during normal daily activities. Surprisingly, this type of fracture is nearly twice as common as other fractures linked to osteoporosis, such as broken hips and wrists. Other causes of vertebral compression fractures are:

  • Trauma to the back – It takes a very strong impact trauma to fracture vertebrae. An injury of this magnitude usually results from a motor vehicle accident or falling from a great height.
  • Osteomyelitis – Localized infection of the bone that occurs mostly in people with diabetes or those who abuse intravenous drugs.
  • Bone cancer – This type of cancer usually has spread (metastasized) from another area of the body such as the prostate or lungs.
  • Tumors that start in the spine, such as multiple myeloma.
  • Tumors that started in the bone or spread to the bone (metastasized) from somewhere else

Symptoms

You may experience one or more of the following symptoms of a vertebral compression fracture:

  • Severe back pain – Most commonly experienced in the mid to lower area of the spine. This pain is a very sharp stabbing sensation that can takes weeks or months to go away.
  • Gradual back pain – Usually in cases of osteoporosis, the pain will slowly get worse with walking or exercise but is not present during sleep or rest.
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of height – as much as six inches over time
  • Bent posture – Caused by multiple vertebral compression fractures, posture can become stooped from lack of support in the spine and create more pressure on the spinal cord. In more extreme cases, people will develop a humpback, a condition medically known as kyphosis. Rarely, a hunched over position can put pressure on the spinal cord, causing:
    • Numbness
    • Tingling
    • Weakness
    • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control

Treatment

There are various surgical and nonsurgical treatments for vertebral compression fracture. You may need just to wear a protective back brace for the fracture to heal. If nonsurgical approaches fail to provide relief, you may need a surgical procedure such as minimally invasive kyphoplasty or spinal fusion.

The multidisciplinary team of spine experts at Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute treats vertebral compression fractures as well as a broad range of spine conditions that can occur at any stage of life.

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