What is a Spinal Compression Fracture?
Spinal compression fractures (also called vertebral compression fractures or VCFs), can cause severe back pain and adversely affect your overall health.
A spinal compression fracture occurs when one or more of your spinal bones (called vertebrae) fractures and collapses. These fractures are most often caused by osteoporosis, a disease that weakens your bones and makes them prone to fractures. Osteoporosis is known as a “silent disease” because it progresses without obvious symptoms. In many cases, a person doesn’t even know they have osteoporosis until a fracture occurs.
Osteoporosis isn’t the sole cause of spinal compression fractures; they may also be the result of injury, and certain types of cancer or tumors.
Complications of Spinal Compression Fractures
Multiple spinal compression fractures can cause your spine to shrink and hunch forward, resulting in a stooped posture. This forward curvature of the spine is known as kyphosis, and it can make even the most common activities, such as walking, a challenge.
Kyphosis can cause a number of health issues, including chronic back pain, loss of height, and sleep difficulties. Over time, patients with spinal fractures are at increased risk of suffering from serious—even fatal—pulmonary complications. This is because the forward curve of the spine can compress your chest cavity, making it difficult to breathe.
The postural changes of kyphosis can also load the spine abnormally and may lead to a greater incidence of fractures.
Treating Spinal Compression Fractures: Non-surgical Treatment
Patients with compression fractures may be treated with bed rest, bracing, or pain medications. Most patients heal this way, but there are risks, such as persistence of pain, spinal deformity, and the potential for spinal canal compromise.
In addition, bed rest can cause many additional complications, including worsening bone mineral density, deconditioning, bed sores, and it can even increase your risk of pneumonia and urinary tract infections. Because of these risks and the relatively low risk of surgery, many patients are offered bone cement implantation through vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty.
Treating Spinal Compression Fractures: Surgical Treatment
One of the more recent treatments available for spinal compression fractures is a surgical procedure called balloon kyphoplasty. This minimally invasive treatment stabilizes spinal fractures, helps regain height and correct the kyphotic deformity, and may reduce back pain.