Vertebral fractures, also known as spinal fractures or vertebral compression fractures, are a lot more common than most people think. Since even minor falls or trauma can produce a spinal fracture, it is estimated that 1.5 million fractures occur every year in the United States. Car accidents, sports injuries and falls from significant heights can cause serious fractures that require emergency treatment, while less severe fractures are often the result of conditions that weaken bone, such as osteoporosis or tumors.
Weak bones fracture easily
Osteoporosis, a condition especially prevalent in postmenopausal women that causes bone to thin and become more brittle, is the predominant cause of vertebral fractures. More than 25 percent of postmenopausal women in the U.S. and as many as 25 percent of men over the age of 50 will suffer a bone fracture due to osteoporosis. In most cases, a routine activity like opening a window or bending to pick something up will cause the fracture and the subsequent, sudden onset of back pain.
What does a fracture feel like?
Vertebral fractures are not always accurately diagnosed or treated. Quite often, the person suffering from a fracture attributes what they’re feeling to simple back pain or experiences no symptoms at all. For those who do have symptoms, they are usually one or more of the following:
- Sudden onset of back pain
- Weakness, numbness or tingling
- Standing or walking makes the pain worse
- Difficulty bending or twisting
- Pain is reduced when lying on back
- Limited spinal mobility
- Height loss
- A curved, stooped shape to the spine
Different fractures, different treatments
Most spinal fractures are treated with rest and immobilization to reduce pain and prevent deformity. Epidural steroid injections and facet block injections are minimally invasive procedures that inject a small amount of local anesthetic or steroid medication to anesthetize the area and block the pain associated with simple vertebral fractures.
More severe fractures may require vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty. With vertebroplasty, the fractured vertebrae is injected with bone cement, which hardens and re-stabilizes the vertebral column. This procedure has been shown to reduce or eliminate fracture pain and enable a more rapid return to mobility. In kyphoplasty, an inflatable bone tamp is inserted into the vertebral column to restore it to its original height and the cavity it creates is filled with bone cement to prevent the vertebrae from re-collapsing.
Prevention is the best medicine
While it’s not easy to prevent yourself from taking a fall or getting into an accident, there are some precautions you can take to minimize your risk. For example, always wear a seatbelt when you’re in a car and use safety equipment when playing sports. If your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, consider fall-proofing your home by removing throw rugs you could slip on, making sure pathways are clear of clutter and using a rubber mat in the shower.
There are also things you can do to help prevent osteoporosis—or keep it from getting worse. By eating a diet rich in calcium, taking Vitamin D, and getting regular exercise, emphasizing weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises that can protect your bones, you’ll be well on your way.
We’re here to help
If you’re suffering from the pain associated with vertebral fracture, we can help. At Pain Management and Injury Relief (PMIR), we specialize in diagnosing, treating and rehabilitating the underlying causes of your pain. If you’d like to learn more about the options we offer, call PMIR at (877) 724-6349 to make an appointment today.