What Is a Vertebral Compression Fracture?

Compression-FractureVertebral compression fracture is one of the more common causes of back pain. An achy back is a common complaint; nearly everyone in the U.S. will have this ailment at some point. Vertebral compression fractures occur when one or more of the 33 vertebrae in the spine have either broken or collapsed. While the majority of these injuries remarkably are asymptomatic – or cause no significant pain – they can also result in limited movement and long-term, nagging pain.

Vertebral Compression Fracture Causes

How do vertebrae crack? Most likely, the cause of the break is osteoporosis. This condition is often seen with age and is caused when bones soften. A compression fracture of this sort may cause sudden pain, or it may cause nagging, long-term pain felt after attempting minor movements, like bending and lifting. Vertebral compression fractures do not, therefore, present in one consistent manner. They can cause no pain. Or they can cause severe discomfort from something as insignificant as sitting.

Vertebral-ColumnThese cracked vertebrae are most common in the upper, or thoracic, back – down to the lower, or lumbar, back. While pain normally resolves within a month, severe pain or pain that lasts longer than four weeks is an indication of the need for further medical care. In this circumstance, a physician will likely conduct a comprehensive history, exam, and possibly diagnostic imaging. Key indicators are kyphosis – or having a humpback – and loss of height with time. A simple X-ray can see if vertebrae are compressed or broken, though a bone scan for osteoporosis may also be in order.

Treatment for vertebral compression fractures spans the same wide range as the pain associated. Conservative care may include medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. A calcium-rich diet will likely be recommended.

The two most common, and minimally invasive, surgical procedures for this condition are vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. During a percutaneous vertebroplasty, cement is pushed into the fractured bone to provide more support and allow for healing. Another surgical option is a balloon kyphoplasty when a small balloon is injected into the injured vertebrae and slowly inflated to the original size. While the surgeries are safe and will often help with recovery, there are always risks, too. If the fracture was caused from osteoporosis, the softening of the bones must also be treated to protect the rest of the skeletal frame.

At Arizona Pain, our goal is to relieve your pain and improve function to increase your quality of life.
Give us a call today at 480-563-6400.

References

  • Jones, R.; et al. (2010). Back Pain. First Consult. MD Consult Web site, Core Collection. Retrieved from http://www.mdconsult.com.ezproxy1.library.arizona.edu/das/pdxmd/body/262696692-3/1175420680?type=med&eid=9-u1.0-_1_mt_1014913#Contributors.
  • Nidus Information Services. (2011). Compression fractures of the back. Patient Handouts. MD Consult Web site, Core Collection. Retrieved from http://www.mdconsult.com.ezproxy1.library.arizona.edu/das/patient/body/262696692-3/1175420669/10041/31768.html.
  • Sheon, R.P.; Rosen, H.N. (2011). Clinical manifestations and treatment of osteoporotic thoracolumbar vertebral compression fractures. In: UpToDate, Basow, DS (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA.
  • Decker, J.E.; Hergenroeder, A.C. (2010). Overview of musculoskeletal neck injuries in the young athlete. In: UpToDate, Basow, DS (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA.
  • Kado, D.M. (2010). Overview of hyperkyphosis in older persons. In: UpToDate, Basow, DS (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA.
  • Nidus Information Services. (2011). Compression fractures of the back. Patient Handouts. MD Consult Web site, Core Collection. Retrieved from http://www.mdconsult.com.ezproxy1.library.arizona.edu/books/page.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4160-2261-9..50040-9–cesec8&isbn=978-1-4160-2261-9&sid=1175420675&uniqId=262696692-3#4-u1.0-B978-1-4160-2261-9..50040-9–cesec10.
  • Evans, A.J.; et al. (2009). Prospective assessment of pain and functional status after vertebroplasty for treatment of vertebral compression fractures. J NeuroIntervent Surg. Vol 1, 66-70.