Definition

A vertebral fracture is a break in one of the bones of the spine. This type of fracture usually occurs when the front part of the bone is squeezed or compressed. They are most common in the bones at the chest level.

Vertebral Fracture
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Causes

A vertebral compression fracture can be caused by:

  • Weakening of the bone because of conditions like:
    • Osteoporosis—decreased bone mass and density
    • Bone infection
    • Bone cancer
  • A direct blow to the back
  • Falling down
  • Landing on your heels when jumping from a height
  • Having major trauma such as a motor vehicle accident

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chances of vertebral compression fractures:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Previous vertebral fracture within the last year
  • Female gender
  • Older age
  • Trauma
  • Cancer
  • Chronic use of corticosteroids
  • Proton pump inhibitors
  • Poor mental functioning
  • Poor mobility
  • Poor strength

Symptoms

Most people do not have symptoms. If present, symptoms may include:

  • Mild to severe pain in the middle or lower back
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness
  • Difficulty walking

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

You may be tested to look for signs of osteoporosis. This can be done with a bone mineral density test.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to allow the bone to heal. Options will depend on the severity of the fracture and your overall health but may include:

Nonsurgical Treatments

Your doctor may advise:

  • A brief period of bed rest and a decrease in activity
  • Medication to control the pain
  • Strengthening exercises for your back muscles
  • A back brace

Surgery

More severe fractures may require:

  • Vertebroplasty—Liquid cement is injected into the bone to help relieve the pain. It may be best for recent fractures. It may not be as helpful in people whose fractures are due to osteoporosis.
  • Kyphoplasty—A balloon or other procedure is used to create a small space in the bone near the fracture. The cement is injected into the cavity. This procedure is designed to relieve pain. It can also improve spinal deformities from the fractures.
  • Spinal fusion—Joins together two or more bones in the spine. It is most often used for burst fractures. This procedure stops the bones from moving.

Your doctor may also start treatment for related factors. For example, you may be given a program to help slow bone loss from osteoporosis.

Prevention

Building strong bones will help prevent more fractures. Steps for healthy bones include:

  • Get plenty of weight-bearing exercise. This includes walking, jogging, or sports such as tennis.
  • Do strength exercises for arms and legs. This will help to improve your bones but also improve balance to decrease falls.
  • Get plenty of calcium, vitamin D, and protein in your diet. Talk to your doctor if you think you need supplements.
  • If you have osteoporosis, you should talk to your doctor about treatment options. If you had an early menopause, talk to your doctor about this.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake is 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.

Lowering the risk of falls can also decrease your risk of fractures. Remove any obstacles in your home that could cause you to fall. These may include throw rugs or furniture.

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