FAQ’s on Vertebral Compression Fracture

What is a Vertebral Compression Fracture?

When one or more of the spinal vertebrae is fractured due to vertical impact on a weakened bone, a patient is said to have suffered a vertebral compression fracture. The most common way this occurs for patients is to have excess compressive pressure placed onto vertebrae composed of weakened bone.

The pressure placed on the bone does not need to be an outside force. It is possible for patients to suffer a compression fracture from something as minor as normal walking for sneezing. It’s possible for multiple vertebrae to fracture at once if enough force is applied to them.

Patients who have had compression fractures in the past are at a 5x increased risk of suffering from additional vertebral compression fractures.

What causes Vertebral Compression Fractures?

Vertebral compression fractures are the direct result of a vertical compression force being applied to vertebrae that have been weakened by another condition. The most common cause of bone weakening among patients is osteoporosis and the general degradation of bone resulting from it.

Compression fractures do not require a large amount of force to occur; they simply require the force to be more than the weakened vertebrae can endure. Thus the weaker the bone of the vertebrae, the less the amount of force required to sustain injury.

Other potential causes of a compression fracture are spinal trauma suffered by the patient and the possibility of vertebrae compression due to a growing tumor in the spine. It is possible for patients to suffer these fractures from normal movement of the spine as vertebrae are compressed while flexing the spine. If the bone is weak enough, even this minor compression can result in fracturing.

The symptoms of a Vertical Compression Fracture

The symptoms that will be exhibited will depend on what stage of fracture the vertebrae are in. Vertebral compression fractures may cause no pain, or they may cause pain and aching throughout the day.

If a patient suffers multiple fractures at once, they may begin to exhibit kyphosis as a symptom. This is a lump-like curving of the spine as the spinal column partially collapses into itself at the location of the fractured vertebrae.

Kyphosis can also result in the compression of one or more spinal nerves, potentially causing additional side effects of pain and weakness in the limbs and abdomen. Another symptom that multiple fractures have occurred will be a partial loss of height, again due to partial collapsing of the spine.

How are Vertebral Compression Fractures diagnosed?

Diagnosis for a vertebral compression fracture is achieved as a culmination of the patients’ medical history, the symptoms being exhibited, the events leading up the symptoms, and the results of diagnostic imaging techniques. The spine will be examined for the presence of kyphosis and for areas of tenderness along the vertebrae.

If the physician suspects there may be one or more fractures present, he or she will turn to the use of X-ray to examine the physical spine. Depending on the symptoms present, an MRI may be warranted to search for areas of tissue damage and for the compression of spinal nerves. If the age of the fracture is in question, then the MRI can show whether or not the fracture is still actively trying to heal.

Treatment options for Vertebral Compression Fractures

Pain medication will be given to the patient to help provide pain relief. The majority of patients will also receive a calcium supplement in an attempt to strength the bones of the spine to prevent future fractures.

Spinal bracing is typically tried initially with either a Jewett brace or a TLSO. If this and pain medication helps, then that may be the end of what’s needed.

Either a vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty may become necessary to help relieve pain if those fail. These are outpatient procedures involving the placement of bone cement into the VCF to stabilize the fracture and relieve pain.