Vertebral Compression Fracture Symptoms, Causes

A Vertebral Compression Fracture happens when the small bones (vertebrae) of the spine are compressed together to a smaller height. The leading cause of this type of fracture is osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease that thins and weakens bone tissue as people age. Osteoporosis makes bones brittle and more vulnerable to fractures. As osteoporosis worsens, a vertebral compression fracture can happen even during normal daily activities.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that a vertebral compression fracture, or spinal fracture, occurs in nearly 700,000 people every year. Surprisingly, this type of fracture is nearly twice as common as other fractures linked to osteoporosis such as broken hips and wrists. 

Vertebral Compression Fracture Symptoms

You may experience one or more of the following symptoms of a vertebral compression fracture:

  • Severe back pain – Most commonly experienced in the mid to lower area of the spine. This pain is very sharp and is often referred to as a stabbing sensation which can takes weeks or months to go away.
  • Gradual back pain – Usually in cases of osteoporosis, the pain will slowly get worse with walking or exercise but is not present during sleep or rest.
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of height – as much as six inches over time
  • Bent posture – Caused by multiple vertebral compression fractures, posture can become stooped from lack of support in the spine and create more pressure on the spinal cord. In more extreme cases, people will develop a humpback, a condition medically known as kyphosis. Rarely, a hunched over position can put pressure on the spinal cord and cause:
    • Numbness
    • Tingling
    • Weakness
    • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control

Vertebral Compression Fracture Causes

  • Trauma to the back – It takes a very strong impact trauma to fracture vertebrae. An injury of this magnitude usually results from a motor vehicle accident or falling from a great height.
  • Osteomyelitis – localized infection of the bone that occurs mostly in people with diabetes or those who abuse intravenous drugs.
  • Bone cancer – This type of cancer has usually spread (metastasized) from another area of the body such as the prostate or lungs.
  • Tumors – that start in the spine, such as multiple myeloma.
  • Tumors – that started in the bone or spread to the bone (metastasized) from somewhere else.

The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Spine Services in New York treats Vertebral Compression Fractures as well as a broad range of spine conditions that can occur at any stage of life.

Vertebral Compression Fracture Treatment

There are various surgical and nonsurgical treatments for vertebral compression fracture. You may only need to wear a protective back brace in order for the fracture to heal. If nonsurgical approaches fail to provide relief, you may need a surgical procedure such as minimally invasive kyphoplasty surgery or spinal fusion surgery.

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