Spinal Compression Fractures and Osteoporosis

Is it true that someone can have a spinal compression fracture and not be aware of it at all?   

Our spinal column consists of 33 vertebrae, which are bones that provide support for the body and facilitate movement. The spinal column also houses and protects the spinal cord, the mechanism through which the brain communicates with the rest of the body. When there is a fracture of one of the vertebrae, it is referred to as a spinal compression fracture, because it results in the vertebrae collapsing and narrowing or compressing the space between it and the one below it.

Compression fractures can be extremely painful and result in a period of disability for several months. In the United States, there are approximately a million and a half spinal compression fractures every year. Most of these injuries are found in the senior population, and women tend to be more prone to these types of fractures, probably due to the effects of menopause on bone density.  

Causes of Spinal Compression Fractures

Some cases of spinal compression fracture are the result of injury or trauma, as well as some types of cancer, tumors or infection. Most often, however, osteoporosis, a natural part of the aging process that results in our bones becoming porous and weakening, is the underlying cause. In fact, in the spine alone, osteoporosis leads to around 700,000 spinal fractures in the U.S. each year. We think of the elderly being at risk for broken hips and wrists because of the damage done to bone density by osteoporosis, but there are actually far more related bone fractures in the spine.

Named the “silent disease”, osteoporosis can be steadily doing damage to the bones of the body for years without the individual being aware of it. In many cases, it is a bone fracture that has been caused by the degrading of bone mass that alerts the individual or a physician of the presence of osteoporosis. That said, sometimes spinal compression fractures occur with little or no pain, and so the progress of the osteoporosis continues with the individual remaining unaware.

What does often give away the presence of spinal compression fractures and the underlying culprit, osteoporosis, is the effects of those vertebrae collapsing. One vertebrae with a fracture may not attract much attention if there is not accompanying pain, but once this has happened to more vertebrae, the spine will begin to curve and the individual will actually lose body height.

Spinal Compression Fracture Treatment Options

Suggestions for treatment for those with spinal compression fractures will depend upon the severity of the condition and the level of pain that the patient is experiencing. Non-surgical methods will include bed rest, bracing and pain medications. The condition may resolve itself within two to three months.

For those cases that do not successfully respond to non-surgical methods, procedures like vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty may be recommended. Using needles, balloons and cement, the goal of these procedures is to stabilize the area that was damaged and rebuild the structure, returning the space that was compressed, which should result in the patient regaining normal height.  Past and more recent studies have failed to convincingly demonstrate the benefit of these interventions, and patients who do have cement injected into the vertebrae may be vulnerable to future fracture of neighboring vertebra.

If osteoporosis is diagnosed, it is likely that there will continue to be more compression fractures. This should also be addressed by your physician.  At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidenced based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you are experiencing back pain or have questions about spinal compression fractures or any of our treatment methods or services, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here.