Vertebral Compression Fracture
Vertebral compression fracture occurs when a part in the vertebra collapses due to the compression of the bone in the spine. With age, vertebrae is weakened and loses its strength and leads to a condition called osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a kind of bone loss that causes bones to break easily. Osteoporosis is the leading cause of vertebral compression fractures especially in the age group of 40 to 50 and above. Post menopausal women and men above the age of 65 years are at highest risk of suffering from vertebral compression fractures.
Apart from osteoporosis, there could be other reasons that lead to vertebral compression fractures. Young adults suffer from vertebral fractures due to spinal injuries during rigorous exercises, sports activities or accidents. These compression fractures normally heal within 8 to 10 weeks with good rest and pain medication. Vertebral compression fractures may also be attributed to cancer tumors associated with multiple myeloma and metastatic bone disease. In very rare cases, infection or Osteomyelitis of the vertebra also results in compression fractures.
Wedge fractures are the most common type of compression fractures wherein the front part of the vertebral body collapses and becomes wedge shaped. Other types of vertebral compression fractures include biconcave (collapse of central portion of vertebral body) crush fractures (collapse of entire vertebral body). These fractures happen most commonly in the thoracic spine (the middle portion of the spine), and lumbar spine (low back).
Symptoms of Vertebral compression fracture
Compression fractures caused by injuries produce sudden onset of sharp and throbbing pain. Fractures caused by osteoporosis may cause very mild to severe pain in the back. Normally the pain is intense in standing posture and there is respite when lying down.
Vertebral compression fractures also lead to kyphosis and loss of height especially with the fractures associated with osteoporosis.
Sometimes a severely fractured bone can impinge on the spinal cord. Thus, numbness or tingling in limbs or other areas of the body may occur if the spinal cord is affected. This can impair sensation in the areas supplied by the damaged nerve tissue.
Doctor's evaluation of symptoms plays a major role in diagnosing compression fractures. Noting of complete history of the patient and clinical examination are necessary to determine the presence of vertebral compression fracture. When doctor suspects vertebral compression fracture, an x ray is ordered to confirm the diagnosis. If the X-Ray reveals a fracture, further imaging tests like CT scan and MRI are performed to rule out the involvement of spinal cord and also to understand the age of the fracture. A neurological exam may also be done to test for reflexes, muscle strength and sensory perception.
Treating Vertebral Compression Fracture
The conventional methods of treating vertebral compression fractures include pain medication, rest and bracing. While pain medication helps in alleviating the pain to some extent, back braces reduce the chance of further collapse of the bone, prevent deformity, and allow injuries to heal by taking the pressure off the fractured vertebral bone. Giving rest to the back by decreasing activities as much as possible helps in healing the fractures naturally and quickly.
There are also some minimally invasive methods used to treat vertebral fractures which are gaining popularity. Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty are two medical procedures that are increasingly being used to treat compression fractures. Here the fracture is treated by injecting a bone cement onto the collapsed bone through hollow needle. These are image-guided surgical procedures with minimum invasion that promise faster pain relief.
Further treatment also depends upon the underlying cause that is leading to vertebral fracture. If the osteoporosis is causing the bones to collapse, doctor may prescribe calcium and other bone strengthening supplements to avoid future compression fractures. If a tumor has caused compression fracture, more invasive surgery will be required remove sections of bone or tissue.
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Bibliography / Reference
Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: July 9, 2020