Vertebral Compression Fracture

Vertebral Compression Fracture (VCF)

The bones that make up your spine are called vertebrae. These bones protect your spinal cord, allow flexibility, and work to give your body structure and support. Over time, bone mass and density throughout the body can diminish and bone minerals can be lost. This is referred to as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis results in thinner, frailer bones, which means that there is a greater chance that they might fracture or break. When the problem affects the bones in the spine, a vertebral compression fracture can occur.

Vertebral compression fracture (VCF) is one of the most prevalent causes of back pain. Fractures can be caused by stress placed on the bones as a result of an injury (e.g. a car accident or a fall); however, osteoporosis tends to be the main cause. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, approximately 750,000 people with osteoporosis will get a vertebral compression fracture each year.

VCF Symptoms

When a bone in the spine compresses or breaks, it can be painful. Different people, however, exhibit different symptoms. Some people experience severe pain when a fracture occurs, while others may only feel pain when performing certain movements, such as lifting, bending or twisting. It is also possible for a VCF to occur without a patient experiencing any pain or discomfort.

In addition to pain, other symptoms of VCF include kyphosis (having a humpback); loss of balance; loss of height over time; and neurological symptoms, such as numbness, tingling and weakness.

If you feel a nagging pain in your mid to lower back, you should see a specialist, especially if the symptoms started suddenly. A doctor will be able to determine whether a vertebral compression fracture is the cause of your pain.

Diagnosis & Treatment

To diagnose your back problem, our expertly trained physicians will conduct a comprehensive medical history and perform a physical exam, paying special attention to your symptoms. If a diagnosis is inconclusive based on this exam, diagnostic imaging may be necessary. An X-ray can be used to see if bones in the spine are compressed, broken or fractured. Meanwhile, a bone scan can be used to determine if you have osteoporosis.

If a vertebral compression fracture is diagnosed, a treatment plan will be tailored to treat your individual symptoms. For mild fractures, treatment options may include wearing a back brace to limit spine movement while the fracture heals; taking pain medication; getting rest and slowly incorporating doctor-approved exercises; and taking calcium or other supplements to help strengthen the bones.

For more severe cases, a minimally invasive procedure may be necessary. Two of the most common minimally invasive procedures for VCF include vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. With both procedures bone cement is injected into the fractured vertebrae to provide stability, the main difference being that kyphoplasty requires injecting a balloon into the vertebrae to create a cavity for the cement.

Our pain and spine specialists with discuss all treatment options with you so that you understand the benefits and risk. Call (859) 282-2024 for a consultation with one of our double or triple-board certified physicians.