Conditions We Treat

Vertebral Compression Fractures

Vertebral Compression Fractures - APSM

What are Vertebral Compression Fractures?

Vertebral compression fractures occur when one or more of the 33 vertebrae in your spine either break or collapse. It is most common in the upper (thoracic) spine but can also occur in the lower back (the lumbar spine).

What causes Vertebral Compression Fractures?

The vertebrae are remarkably strong and well-supported by each other and various ligaments, tendons, and muscles. So how do vertebrae crack?

Most likelyosteoporosis will lead to a break. Osteoporosis occurs as we age, resulting in thinning and softening of the bones. In cases of severe osteoporosis, a compression fracture can occur with something as simple as a cough or a sneeze. When this happens, it may cause sudden pain. Other times, it may cause constant, long-term pain after attempting such minor movements as bending or lifting.

When the bones are generally healthy, most vertebral compression fractures occur after trauma to the back, such as during a car accident, a fall, or high-impact sports.

What are the symptoms of Vertebral Compression Fractures?

Vertebral compression fractures do not present in any consistent manner, making diagnosing and treatment challenging. Many people experience no significant pain. You might just have a minor ache every now and then; or, there can be severe discomfort from something as insignificant as sitting. In the worst cases, vertebral compression fractures can result in decreased mobility and long-term, chronic pain.

The pain will normally resolve within a month, but having severe pain or pain lasting longer than four weeks indicates that further medical care should be sought.

After a medical exam, where your doctor will check for sensitivity over an area or a hump, an X-ray may be ordered to see if any vertebrae are compressed or broken. A bone scan for osteoporosis may also be ordered. Loss of height over time is also a key indicator of osteoporosis and can help confirm your doctor’s diagnosis.

What are my treatment options for a Vertebral Compression Fracture?

There are many treatment options, depending on the cause of the fracture.

If the fracture was caused by osteoporosis, the bones need to be treated as well, in order to protect the rest of the skeletal frame. Other treatments may include:

  1. Lifestyle changes: A calcium-rich diet and plenty of exercise (including weight-bearing exercise to strengthen bones) can help manage or prevent symptoms
  2. Physical therapy: This can help build strength and flexibility to better support the spine
  3. Medications: If there is severe pain, some medications can help during pain flare-ups. Medications to treat and prevent osteoporosis may also be recommended
  4. Acupuncture: Acupuncture can help relieve back pain in many forms
  5. Vertebroplasty: In more severe cases, a vertebroplasty procedure provides more support for the fractured bone with medical cement
  6. Kyphoplasty: Similar to vertebroplasty, this procedure allows for healing by placing a small balloon into the injured vertebrae and slowly inflating it to make room for cement

The last two treatment options are minimally-invasive surgeries that may be offered if other conservative approaches are unsuccessful. While these surgeries are generally safe and can help in many cases, there are always risks. Discuss these in detail with your doctor.

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Common Conditions We Treat