Vertebral Compression Fracture

A vertebral compression fracture is generally uncommon in young healthy people, but is more common in the elderly and post-menopausal. A vertebral compression fracture involves the loss of height or collapse of the vertebral body. The vertebral body is the weight bearing part of the vertebral bone that is located between the intervertebral discs. The vertebral body may collapse due to medical conditions such infection and cancer, though it is usually the result of a loss of bone mineral density mass. Bones with a high mineral density are strong and able to bear the weight bearing loads that we place on them as we stand upright, walk, and lift heavy objects. Due to metabolic and hormonal changes in the body, such as the onset of osteoporosis, the bone mineral density decreases, and its strength decreases with it. This makes the weight bearing portion of the vertebral bone prone to fracture.

These fractures of the vertebral bodies may or may not happen suddenly, and they may or may not involve a complete collapse across the entire structure.

Let's take a look at how doctors define compression fractures, what the different types are, and some of the best available treatment options.

How do we compare the physical state of a compressed vertebral body as opposed tone that is healthy. A compression fracture is a vertebral bone that has lost between 10-20% of its original height due to fracture. These fractures most commonly occur between the levels of T10 to T12, which is in the lower part of the thoracic spine. The second most common location for this condition is the upper part of the lumbar spine, such as L2. Compression fractures in the cervical spine are much rarer.

Types of Fracture: A spinal fracture associated with bone density loss (osteoporosis) is most commonly referred to as a compression fractures. Other names used to describe this same condition include an osteoporotic fracture, vertebral fracture, and wedge fracture. These types of fracture may be distinguished by the amount of the vertebral body that has been collapsed.

Normal vertebral bodies: Vertebral bodies have been described as being cylindrical in shape, with flattened super and anterior surfaces that the spinal discs attach to.

Wedge Fracture: With a wedge fracture one side of the bone collapses downwards while its other side remains intact. When this happens, it is usually the front of the bone that collapses while its back remains normal. These are the most common types of spinal fractures.

Crush fracture: With a crush fracture, the entire bone breaks and collapses downwards.

Burst fracture: burst fractures usually involve the same loss of height in the front and back of the vertebral body. As opposed to wedge fractures, this condition is considered to be more unstable, and is usually degenerative. This condition is usually the reason why you see the familiar hump in people's backs (Dowager's hump). Common sense will probably tell you that this condition is easier to prevent than to treat. This condition may lead to acute pain if treated and reversed and chronic pain if it progresses. Beyond back pain, other symptoms of this condition include the loss of height, crowding of the internal organs, difficulty breathing, and difficulty with movement and exercise.

The physical changes, effects the organ compression and physical pain may leave these sufferers with a lowered self image and their ability to maintain the lifestyle that they had before.

When wedge fractures occur and the bone changes don't progress, the spine actually usually remains stable, and there is usually no spinal nerve or spinal cord damage.

Treatment: The ways these problems are treated are related to cause, location, and severity of damage. Two treatments, known as kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty, involve back surgeries in which the disc is pumped up and injected with an artificial bony material, like the filling of a cavity in the mouth. Other non-surgical treatments for compression fractures include the standard rest, pain medications, and use of heat and icing to allow the bone to heal or stabilize.