Compression Fractures of the Vertebrae

Compression fractures of the vertebrae are caused by trauma or a weakening of the vertebral body, which causes it to collapse, resulting in a stopped posture, difficulty breathing, and back pain.

Compression fractures of the vertebrae include changes to the weight bearing part of the vertebra (vertebral body) it collapses in on itself. Compression fractures may occur in rare traumas, such as high speed car accidents, but they are more likely due to disease conditions that cause a weakening of the bones. Most of you out there have broken one or more bones in your lifetime, either due to a fall or a violent sports collision. If you have broken a bone, you have probably seen the X-Ray of it in the emergency room or at your doctor's office. On an X-ray, most broken bones involve a clean break in the bones, which have a great capacity to heal themselves when set in place, immobilized, and allowed to heal. Compression fractures don't typically involve the same healing process as most other bone breaks, and the healing process is also much different. Compression fractures usually involve the vertebral bone buckling in on itself through a combination of a weakening of the bones and pressures applied to them. Unlike other types of bone breaks, compression fractures don't typically heal themselves fully, and the vertebral bodies that were once block-shaped take on more of a pyramidal shape. The vertebral bodies that were once block shaped now become much shorter towards the front (anteriorly) than in the back (posteriorly). The best treatment towards compression fractures are prevention, though there are several treatments to try to reverse the damage and prevent further compression fractures in the future. Let's take a deeper look at the causes of compression fractures of the vertebrae and the available treatments.

Causes: The causes of compression fractures are conditions that cause a weakening of the bones, aging, trauma, and pathology.

Weakening and bone density. The two groups of people most likely to experience a loss in bone density are elderly males and females, and post-menopausal females. Bone density is the concentration of bone mineral matter per square centimeter of bones. The minerals and bone producing cells (osteocytes and osteoblasts) on the outside of our bones are what give our bones its strength and resistance to warping. When the bone density decreases below healthy levels, the condition is known as osteopenia and the bones become more prone to breaks or compression fractures. The weight-bearing bones, including the hips, femur, and vertebrae become especially vulnerable to fracture associated with decreases in bone density. Osteoporosis is the number one cause abnormally low bone mineral density levels. Postmenopausal women are prone to osteoporosis, which is caused by drops in production of hormone levels such as estrogen and progesterone. All people over the age of 65 are at risk for decreased bone mineral density levels.

Trauma: Generally, compression fractures of the spinal bones are rare, and caused by violent accidents, such as a person being thrown out of a car. A person is more likely to have back pain associated with falls or trauma due to muscle strains or soft tissue damage.

Pathological Fracture: Pathological fractures include infectious disease or other types of diseases at the fracture site. A person may have a localized infection of the bone, cause by either a surgical complication or through it spreading to the spine through the bloodstream. Osteomyelitis, which an infection of the vertebrae that has spread from another area of the body, is a common side effect/complication of diabetes. Cancer of the bone may also cause compression fractures of the vertebrae.