A vertebral compression fracture (also known as a spinal compression fracture) occurs when a weakened vertebral body in the spine collapses. Approximately 700,000 vertebral fractures occur each year – usually in women over the age of sixty. Researchers estimate at least 25% of women and a somewhat smaller percentage of men older than fifty will suffer one or more vertebral compression fractures. Younger people also suffer from these fractures, particularly those whose bones have become fragile due to long term steroid use or other drugs to treat a variety of diseases, such as lupus, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Of particular concern are vertebral fractures caused by progressive weakening of the bone, or osteoporosis. The pain and loss of movement that often accompany fractures of the spine are perhaps the most feared and debilitating side effects of osteoporosis. For many people with osteoporosis, a vertebral compression fracture means severely limited activity, constant pain and a serious reduction in quality of life.
What are the risk factors for vertebral compression factors?
You are at increased risk for fractures as you age and if you have already had a compression fracture. One vertebral compression fracture puts you at five times the risk of having a second one.
Risk factors you cannot control:
- Age 50 and above
- Thin, low body weight or small frame
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Certain diseases
Risk factors you can control:
- Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
- Do weight-bearing and muscle-building exercises
- Don’t smoke
- Limit alcohol intake
- Follow your physician’s medical treatments as prescribed
How can I get pain relief? Can the underlying problem be helped?
In the past, patients with painful compression fractures had the option of using pain medications, wearing a brace, getting bed rest, or undergoing surgery with varying results. Today, many patients are opting for image-guided procedures which offer minimally invasive non-surgical treatments that can alleviate the pain caused by compression fractures of the spine. Multiple studies have demonstrated that procedures dramatically improve back pain within hours of the procedure, provides long-term pain relief and has a low complication rate. Those procedures include: