A vertebral compression fracture is a fracture that occurs in one or more vertebra (the bones that make up the spine). Vertebral compression fractures may result from injury caused by trauma of the spine but occur most often in post-menopausal women with osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition where bone tissue becomes fragile and porous, usually caused by the loss of calcium.
Many women over age fifty can experience a fracture of the hip, wrist, or vertebrae due to osteoporosis. Another cause of vertebral compression fracture is a tumor; usually these tumors are due to multiple myeloma. Multiple vertebral compression fractures can and often do lead to a condition called kyphosis, which is a hump-like curvature of the spine.
Vertebral compression fractures may occur suddenly and without warning. Symptoms of vertebral compression fracture are moderate to severe pain felt in the back in the mid to lower spinal area, in the sides or as an internal pain in the front of the spine. The pain is described as knife-like, stabbing or sharp pain and can last from several weeks to months. Compression fractures that are caused by osteoporosis may occur without the patient realizing it and may only be discovered when X-rays are performed for other reasons.
If a person with osteoporosis suffers vertebral compression fractures without their knowledge, they may over time develop certain symptoms that are indicative of the fractures. These symptoms include back pain that begins slowly and worsens over time, often increasing while walking but decreasing while at rest, altered posture, a stooped appearance, or kyphosis (humped back or curvature of the spine), also referred to as dowager’s hump.
Diagnosis of vertebral compression fractures may include some or all of the following; a spinal X-ray, a bone density test, a CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). A noticeable hump (kyphosis) is usually indicative of vertebral compression fractures having occurred.
Most vertebral compression fractures occur in older women who have osteoporosis. Often a vertebral compression fracture is treated with bracing, pain medications and calcium supplements. This allows time for the injury to heal, helps the patient deal with the pain and discomfort, and provides the body with the calcium needed to heal and strengthen the bones.
The calcium supplements will also help to prevent future fractures by strengthening the bone. There are prescription medications such as Fosamax which can help slightly reverse osteoporosis. Although this type of treatment can help heal a fractured vertebra and prevent additional fractures, it will not reverse the damage to the vertebra caused by the fracture that has already occurred.
Vertebral compression fractures caused by tumors often stem from breast cancer, lymphoma, and lung cancer as the tumors spread into the bone of the spine. These types of fractures are more complicated to treat and the outcome largely depends on the outcome of the treatment of the cancer. Some patients can be treated with a back brace to support the spine and help prevent further damage or fractures from occurring. Physical therapy is another option that may be utilized to try to help strengthen the muscles so they can provide natural support to the spine.
Sometimes surgical procedures are performed to stabilize the vertebra to help prevent further fracturing, this is known as a kyphoplasty or vertebroplasty. Studies have shown 90% good to excellent results with these procedures.
Speak with your physician if you think you are suffering from a vertebral compression fracture and let them determine the best methods of treatment for you.