Compression Fractures

Compression fractures of the spine can occur due to injury, trauma, or as a part of the natural aging process. The good news is that most compression or spinal fractures can be treated by an experienced spine surgeon.

Understanding Compression Fractures

Compression fractures result from a breaking or collapse of the vertebrae which are the bones in your spine.  As we age, our bones become weaker and by the time we reach our sixties, 1 in 3 people can experience a compression fracture.  Compression fractures of the spine can occur from a trauma or injury due to an accident, fall, or slip.  However in certain patients with Osteoporosis, a Spinal fractures may also be caused by simple natural movements such as sneezing or coughing. This happens when the vertebrae becomes weak and brittle due to osteoporosis or cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of a Compression Fracture

One of the major symptoms include a sudden onset of back pain that lasts longer than a few days. Those at higher risk of osteoporosis or having low bone density should see their physician to discuss the symptoms. The physician will ask some questions and should examine their back. The physicians may also recommend an x-ray or MRI if required.

Who is at Risk for a compression fracture?

Spinal fractures are twice as common as hip fractures. The fractures have also been labelled as up to three times more common than breast cancer. Post-menopausal women (over the age of 55) are much more vulnerable to get spinal fractures. Women over the age of fifty may also suffer an osteoporosis-related spinal fracture.

Complications of Untreated Spinal Fractures

In the event a spinal fracture is left untreated, the vertebra may heal within the “caved in” or “broken” position. This can results in kyphosis or an increased forward curvature of the spine. There can be a visible change in the patient’s posture due to kyphosis.

A spinal fracture that is not treated in a timely manner or remains in a deformed condition can shorten the overall length of the spine and pushes it forward. This also affects the natural alignment of spine. Any additional fracture of the spine can further increase this deformity which makes the spinal curvature more visible or pronounced in patients. Change of posture with an aim to compensate for kyphotic deformity can affect the way one walks and can also put significant strain on the back and joints.

Misalignment of the spine can compress internal organs and result in health issues not associated with the spine. These may include:

  • Decreased mobility
  • Decreased quality of life
  • Greater vulnerability to falls and tripping
  • Less active days
  • Spending more days in bed
  • Loss of balance
  • Chronic back pain
  • Significant decrease in appetite
  • Sleep related disorders
  • Fatigue / excess tiredness
  • Sadness / depression
  • Muscle loss and weakness
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Increased risk of fractures in the future

Treatment Options for Compression Fractures

The spine fractures are treated with two minor surgical procedures:

Vertebroplasty – This is a minimally invasive procedure wherein liquid bone cement is directly injected into the affected vertebrae with an aim to stabilize the fracture and provide relief from pain.

Balloon Kyphoplasty – This minimally invasive surgery is considered the gold standard to treat compression fractures of the spine. It involves reducing the fracture using a tiny balloon and creating a cavity for bone cement. The treatment is aimed at stabilizing the fracture and restoring vertebral height.