What is a Vertebral Compression Fracture?

A vertebral compression fracture, or break in the vertebral bone, can happen when a force is exerted onto the spine that overpowers the strength of the vertebral structure. Normal bone health alleviates damage from day-to-day impact. Abnormal bone conditions of the vertebrae can make the structure more vulnerable to fracture. If the compression fracture is limited to the bony structure, healing can be more readily achieved. If the fracture also impacts the nerve canal or other elements of the vertebral structure comprehensive treatments may be needed. The patient may first notice pain with movement, particularly transitional moves. Vertebral compression fractures and associated pain are more common at or near the lower back. As a spine doctor, Ernest Braxton, MD, specializes in the treatment of spinal compression fractures.

What Causes a Vertebral Compression Fracture?

An impact with great force onto the vertebral structure is the most common cause of a vertebral compression fracture. Events such as a car accident or an impact sports injury can cause a vertebral compression fracture. Bone loss brought on by bone cancer, persistent use of steroids, and osteoporosis are conditions that can compromise the integrity of the vertebral structure making it more susceptible to fracture. For more weakened bones, even the impact of coughing or sneezing can cause a vertebral compression fracture.

How Do I know I have a Spinal Compression Fracture?

Patients can experience immediate back pain shortly following the impact injury. In other patients, symptoms indicative of a compression fracture may be less direct. These symptoms may include:

  • Back pain that occurs unrelated to an injury

  • Awareness of worsening posture including exaggerated curvature

  • A loss in height measurement when standing

  • Severe sudden back pain

How to Diagnose a Spinal Compression Fracture?

To diagnose a vertebral compression fracture Dr. Braxton will take a complete medical history and conduct a physical exam. Some questions he may ask during the diagnosis may include:

  • Location and intensity of pain
  • Positions or activities that worsen or improve pain
  • Radiating pain to arms, legs, or other body parts

Posture will be evaluated for alignment and careful touch to areas of the spine will help identify muscle or bone issues. Muscle weakness, reflexes, and sensation will be evaluated for nerve involvement. Imaging tests may be used including X-rays, MRIs, bone scans, and CT scans.

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Does a Vertebral Compression Fracture Heal Without Surgery?

Dr. Braxton may recommend patient recovery with non-surgical treatment for vertebral compression fractures. Most patients improve within 3 months with conservative remedies. This may include:

  • Rest
  • Limited use of pain medications
  • Use of a brace to limit movement during healing

If bone loss from osteoporosis or other conditions are present, treatment for bone density may also be addressed.

What is Vertebral Compression Fracture Surgery?

Dr. Braxton will work closely with patients to determine if vertebral compression fracture surgery is the right course of treatment. If the patient has not improved with non-surgical treatments, surgical treatment options may be discussed. Dr. Braxton will explain the type of procedure he recommend, whether it be a kyphoplasty or vertebroplasty. Both methods are intended to help the fracture heal. In most cases, patients can return to all their normal activities with no restrictions following the full recovery period.

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