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.
Vertebroplasty is a medical procedure that is employed to treat compression fractures in the vertebrae. The procedure involves injecting medical grade bone cement into the vertebral bones that have been damaged or collapsed. This procedure offers support. Osteoporosis is the most common cause for fractured spine bones. Spinal tumors, traumatic injuries and rarely Hemangioma are some of the other causes for vertebral compression fractures (VCF) of the spine. However osteoporosis-led vertebral fracture is the most common clinical situation in which vertebroplasty is used. These fractures cause severe pain and reduce the mobility of the patient. Vertebroplasty is a recently developed image-guided surgical procedure with minimum invasion that promises faster pain relief. Vertebroplasty becomes the best alternative choice when conservative pain management does not provide relief to the patient. It is a simple day-care procedure that not only helps in stabilizing the broken bone but also prevents further compression of the affected vertebral area.
An MRI scan is performed on the patient prior to the procedure to confirm the fracture. If MRI scan is not recommended for the patient due to any specific medical condition, CT scan is carried out to assess the exact location of the fracture. If the patient is on any kind of medication, it should be informed to the doctor. Anticoagulation medicines or blood thinners have to be stopped at least five days before the surgery. Vertebroplasty is performed under local anesthesia with sedation by an Interventional radiologist or neuroradiologist. He should be well trained in fluoroscopically guided needle placement and should be able to deliver the cement to the exact position skillfully.
Vertebroplasty is generally a safe procedure. But in rare cases, the cement may leak into adjacent areas leading to complications. If the leaked cement enters the vein and travels to the lungs, it will cause serious pulmonary problems. In worst cases, cement leak may press upon the spinal cord or compress nerves leading to nerve damage. It may also require further surgery to treat the condition. Possibility of infection, allergy and bleeding are some of the other risks associated with Vertebroplasty. Vertebroplasty is not a recommended treatment for herniated disks or arthritis related back pain.
Kyphoplasty is similar to Vertebroplasty with a bit of variation in the technique used in injecting cement into the collapsed vertebral bones. Both methods aim at alleviating the pain caused by recent vertebral fracture which has stopped responding to conventional treatment of pain medication and bed rest. Kyphoplasty makes use of an inflatable balloon to create a cavity inside the collapsed vertebrae and is eventually filled with special bone cement to stabilize the fracture.
Percutaneous Balloon Kyphoplasty (BKP) is primarily used to treat vertebral compression fractures arising out of issues like osteoporosis, metastases or trauma.
Kyphoplasty is believed to be a superior procedure/ Interventional radiologic technique when compared to vertebroplasty as it claims the additional advantage of correcting the kyphosis (stooped back) and regaining the height lost, to some extent. A balloon (bone tamp) that can withstand high pressures is inserted and inflated to achieve the height. When the height and alignment of spine are corrected, the stress in the adjacent vertebral segments is reduced. Then there are lesser chances of adjacent vertebral fractures.
Taking the aid of image guided X-Ray machine, a hollow needle called Trocar is passed through the spinal muscle and positioned at the fractured back bone. This needle is inserted at an angle to avoid the spinal cord. Once the needle reaches the right position, the balloon is inflated to help gain the normal height of the vertebrae. Most often, two balloons are used to provide good support while lifting the collapsed vertebrae back to its normal position.
Inflated balloons, create a cavity/space inside vertebra while raising the collapsed bone. The balloons are slowly deflated and withdrawn. Bone cement (such as polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA)) is then carefully injected into the cavity under pressure filling the deeper side to the upper side of the cavity. Filling cement needs lot of care and skill as excess pressure or quantity may cause the cement to leak into adjacent areas. Cement hardens within 10 to 20 minutes forming an internal cast that holds the vertebral body. The needle is pulled off carefully before the cement hardens. The incision is closed with sterilized strips. The procedure takes about an hour to complete and is carried out both as inpatient or outpatient procedure. The patient is advised to take rest for a day even though he is discharged the same day after a brief period of observation. Some patients have reported Transient Hyperalgesia (abnormal sensitivity to pain) due to polymerization of the acrylic cement used in the procedure.
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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: December 1, 2021