Vertebral Compression Fractures
Vertebral Compression Fractures
Back pain is not just another inevitable aspect of growing older. It could be a sign of stress fractures within your spine called vertebral compression fractures.
What Is A Vertebral Compression Fracture?
Spinal fractures occur when the normal vertebral body is “squashed”, or compressed in height. When the load on a vertebra exceeds its stability or inherent strength, the bone can collapse. Pain, limited mobility, height loss and spinal deformity are often the result. In severe cases, part of the vertebral body may protrude into the spinal canal and put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Organ function, including that of the bowel or bladder, also may be compromised.
Vertebral compression fractures can happen for a number of reasons: trauma from a fall or a car accident; bone thinning due to osteoporosis or even the spread of a tumor into the spine.
Knowing how to prevent, recognize and treat vertebral compression fractures is critical for maintaining good spinal health. Here is some information to help you learn more about this type of spinal injury.
What Causes Vertebral Compression Fractures?
There is no one single cause; however, the vast majority of vertebral compression fractures are the result of osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to progressively become more thin and fragile. When bones are brittle, even everyday activities and minor traumas, such as lifting a laundry basket, missing a step, or even coughing or sneezing, can cause these tiny fractures.
Osteoporosis-related compression fractures can occur anywhere in the spine, but are most often found in the lower vertebrae of the upper back. The vertebral bone tends to collapse toward the front of the spine, creating wedge-shaped vertebrae that cause the spine to curve forward (kyphosis), eventually leading to the “dowager’s hump” frequently associated with the advanced stage of the disease. Learn more about osteoporosis.
Tumors growing in or near the spine are another cause of compression fractures. Doctors frequently monitor those diagnosed with certain types of cancer, including multiple myeloma or lymphoma, for spinal breakage. Tumors also may spread to the spine as a result of cancer in other organs and areas of the body, such as the breasts, lungs and intestines.
People with strong, healthy bones also can sustain compression fractures from a hard fall or blow to the back or torso. Vertebrae can withstand a good deal of shock; however, if the force on the spine is too great, they can break. This is trauma.
What Are The Symptoms of Vertebral Compression Fracture?
The primary physical symptoms of vertebral fracture include one or more of the following:
- Sudden onset of back pain
- Increase in pain when standing or walking
- Variable pain relief when lying down
- Limited spinal mobility
- Weakness or numbness in the affected areas
- Height loss
- Deformity and disability
- Shortness of breath
These additional symptoms signal the possibility of multiple vertebral fractures:
- Hunched back (“dowager’s hump”)
- Bulging abdomen
- Gastrointestinal problems – crowding of the internal organs can be a serious side effect of multiple compression fractures.
- Shortness of breath – it’s possible for the torso to become so compressed that it’s difficult to breathe.
- Hip pain (hip fracture)