What is a vertebral compression fracture?
A vertebral compression fracture is a fracture of the body of the vertebrae, the bony spine. Unlike other fractures, this fracture is more a compression, or flattening of the vertebral body. Vertebral compression fractures are fractures that commonly occur spontaneously, without undue stress on the back.
What are the symptoms of a vertebral compression fracture?
Patients will usually complain of severe pain along the middle of the back. In some cases the pain is so severe as to render the patient bed or wheelchair bound.
What causes vertebral compression fractures?
The vertebrae are usually weakened from a condition called osteoporosis, or thinning of the bone. This is seen in the elderly and in postmenopausal women. In non-elderly males, the bone thinning leading to a fracture can be caused by a lack of testosterone. The weakened bone cannot sustain daily stress and bending forward may cause a collapse of the body of the vertebrae.
How are vertebral compression fractures evaluated?
The diagnosis is made by a careful history and physical examination. X rays will show collapsed or compressed vertebrae, but will not show fractured vertebrae that have not compressed. Often there are multiple fractured vertebrae. An MRI can distinguish between fractures that have healed and those that have not.
How is a painful vertebral compression fracture treated?
The first line of treatment in bone pain due to vertebral compression fractures is conservative management, consisting of back rest, bracing and pain medications. Patients should undergo at least two to four weeks of conservative managements. In many cases the fracture will heal itself with rest. If rest and medication have failed to relieve pain then a minimally invasive procedure can be performed to stabilize the fracture. Importantly, the underlying cause of the fracture should be addressed. In osteoporosis this would consist of medications designed to harden or strengthen bone.
Vertebral compression fracture treatments
The following minimally invasive surgical procedures are performed for vertebral compression fracture: