A spinal fracture is a very serious injury and can have multiple causes. It can be a sudden, traumatically-induced fracture such as from a high-energy impact of an auto accident or fall, gunshot wound or sports-related injury. It can also occur in the elderly due to bones weakened by osteoporosis. Symptoms include severe back pain, which is aggravated by movement and if the spinal cord is affected can cause numbness, tingling and bowel or bladder dysfunction The affected area, whether cervical, thoracic, lumbar or sacral, should be immobilized to prevent further fracture; and evaluation by medical professionals is of the utmost importance. Once the severity of a spinal fracture is diagnosed by imaging and neurological testing, treatment can be determined and can range from nonsurgical options (bracing and activity modification) to surgical decompression and stabilization of the fracture.
A burst fracture is a type of spinal injury in which a vertebrae breaks from a high-energy axial (Vertical) load (car accidents or falls from height), with all or pieces of the vertebra pushed into surrounding tissues and sometimes the spinal canal. Burst fractures are more severe than compression fractures because they involve more of the vertebrae and often cause compression of nerves due to bone fragments. Burst fractures require either full time bracing or stabilization with spinal fusion. Sometimes the bone fragments need to removed from the spinal canal to decrease pressure on nerves by way of corpectomy or laminectomy.
As we get older, our bones thin and our bone strength decreases. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become very weak and more likely to break. It often develops unnoticed over many years, with no symptoms or discomfort until a bone breaks.
Fractures caused by osteoporosis most often occur in the spine. These spinal fractures — called vertebral compression fractures — occur in nearly 700,000 patients each year. Not all vertebral compression fractures are due to osteoporosis. But when the disease is involved, a vertebral compression fracture is often a patient’s first sign of a weakened skeleton from osteoporosis.
Vertebrae weaken from osteoporosis, they can narrow or shrink. This can lead to a rounded back, a hump or a “bent forward” look to the spine. Many people with osteoporosis also note that they are getting shorter over time.
The weakened vertebrae are at a high risk for fracture. A vertebral compression fracture occurs when too much pressure is placed on a weakened vertebra and the front of it cracks and loses height. Vertebral compression fractures are sometimes the result of a fall, although people with osteoporosis can suffer a fracture even when doing everyday things, such as reaching, twisting, coughing, and sneezing.
A vertebral compression fracture causes back pain. The pain typically occurs near the break itself. Vertebral compression fractures most commonly occur near the waistline, as well as slightly above it (mid-chest) or below it (lower back).
If your doctor suspects a vertebral compression fracture, he or she will order an x-ray image to confirm the diagnosis.
To help determine if a fracture is new or old a MRI (Magnetic Resonance Image) or Bone Scan may be ordered. Bone Density Testing (DEXA) may be used to assess whether you also have osteoporosis, and, if so, how severe the condition is.