VERTEBRAL COMPRESSION FRACTURE (VCF)
A 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.
The bones that make up the spine are called vertebrae. These bones protect your spinal cord, allowing for flexibility, and they work to give the 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, vertebral compression fracture can occur.
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, approximately 750,000 people with osteoporosis will get a vertebral compression fracture each year.
Generally all vertebral compression fractures are caused by osteoporosis, trauma, and diseases affecting the bones (pathologic fracture). Causes include:
- Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones from which the bone density is reduced, increasing the chance of vertebral compression fracture with little or no trauma.
- Severe trauma that can cause a vertebra to break. People involved in car accidents or falling from a tall height.
- Pathologic fracture, due to preexisting disease at the fracture site.
When a bone in the spine compresses or breaks is very painful, but people may exhibit different symptoms. If a person feels sudden nagging pain in the mid to lower back, they should immediately visit a doctor to determine if the cause of pain is vertebral compression.
Most common symptoms are:
- Pain in the lower back, but may occur in the middle or upper back or neck. Some people also report hip, abdominal, or thigh pain.
- Numbness, tingling, and weakness which are symptoms of nerve compression
- Losing control (incontinence) of urine or stool or inability to urinate (urinary retention)
A Vertebral Compression Fracture is diagnosed with a detailed physical exam which may include X-ray, MRI or CT-scan. If the fracture is diagnosed a treatment will be tailored specifically for the patient.
For mild fractures the treatment options include:
- Pain medication
- Calcium supplements to strengthen the bones
For the more severe fractures a minimally invasive procedure treatments may be necessary. The two most common are: