Vertebral compression fractures are quite common in older women with osteoporosis, but they often go undiagnosed. They commonly happen when you lift up a heavy object — the excessive force causes tiny fractures to form in one of your vertebrae. While vertebral compression fractures often heal on their own, surgical treatment is often a better option — natural healing often relieves pain, but sometimes doesn't fully restore its shape. If you think that you may have fractured one of your vertebrae, read on to learn more about the symptoms and how it can be treated.
What Are the Symptoms of a Vertebral Compression Fracture?
The most common symptom of a vertebral compression fracture is pain, and the pain becomes worse when you place some type of load on your spine. For example, the pain may worsen when you stand up or when you're carrying heavy objects. Depending on the extent of the fracture, the pain may be mild or severe.
In addition to pain, a vertebral compression fracture also creates a minor spinal deformity. This is due to the fact that the fractured vertebra partially collapses in on itself. Due to the change in the way that your spine is shaped, you may lose some height or your posture may slightly slouch forward when you stand up.
How Is a Vertebral Compression Fracture Diagnosed?
Your doctor can confirm that you have a vertebral compression fracture using diagnostic imaging such as an MRI or a CT scan. Afterward, you and your doctor can discuss your options for treatment.
What Treatment Options Are Available for a Vertebral Compression Fracture?
Conservative treatment involves simply resting until your fractured vertebra heals up on its own. Pain typically begins to subside quickly and is often gone entirely by about three months. You may wish to wear a back brace during this time to help stabilize your spine, which can help reduce pain and allow your vertebra to heal.
Surgical treatment is another option that you can consider for your vertebral compression fracture. This is usually accomplished by a procedure called kyphoplasty. During kyphoplasty, a back surgeon uses an X-ray machine to guide a needle into the fractured area of your vertebra. A balloon comes out of the tip of the needle and inflates, which restores the natural height of the compressed vertebra and creates an open cavity within it. Afterward, bone cement is injected into the cavity. The bone cement will harden rapidly and stabilize your spine.
One caveat of kyphoplasty is that it works best when it's performed immediately after your vertebral compression fracture. As your vertebra heals naturally, it will begin to harden. This makes it difficult for the balloon to expand enough to restore the full height of your vertebra.
Unfortunately, this can make deciding on the correct course of treatment rather tricky. Conservative treatment may not show results for three months, whereas kyphoplasty often won't work well after such a long amount of time. To make matters more complicated, vertebral compression fractures often heal into their compressed state — the vertebra may not regain enough height to prevent the fracture from affecting your posture.
What Should You Do if You Think You Have a Vertebral Compression Fracture?
If you think that you have a vertebral compression fracture, the best option is to schedule an appointment with your doctor and confirm that a fracture is what's causing your back pain. If it's confirmed, you can ask for a referral to a back surgeon in your area to discuss if you're a good candidate for kyphoplasty. If you're comfortable with the surgery, it's worth considering — pain relief is often immediate and you'll minimize the chance of your vertebral compression fracture affecting your posture.
Talk to qualified back surgeons today about your suspected vertebral compression fracture.