Occasional back pain often comes with growing older, but it should never stop you from enjoying all the fun things life has to offer. If you are experiencing an unusual amount of back pain, vertebral compression fractures may be to blame.
What is a Vertebral Compression Fracture?
The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae. When a weakened vertebra experiences pressure beyond what it can handle, it can become “squashed,” which causes it to lose some of its height and develop several small fractures.
Of course, having a squashed vertebra does not sound too pleasant. That’s why it’s so important to be familiar with the causes of compression fractures, the uncomfortable symptoms they may trigger, and when to seek treatment. Check out the below information to learn more about this spinal injury.
What Causes Vertebral Compression Fractures?
There are several factors that can lead to vertebral compression fractures. Here are a few of the most common:
- Osteoporosis – The majority of fractures can be pinned on osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become more thin and fragile over time.
- Tumors – Tumors from cancers like lymphoma and multiple myeloma can grow near or in the spine, causing vertebrae to become more vulnerable to breakage.
- Trauma – Even young, healthy adults can sustain spinal fractures after a car accident, fall, or another form of trauma. Vertebrae are strong and can handle plenty of strain, but they’re still susceptible to breaking.
What are the Symptoms of Vertebral Compression Fractures?
Most people with vertebral compression fractures experience some form of discomfort, which can include:
- Sudden back pain
- Increased back pain when standing or walking
- Limited spinal mobility
- Numbness or weakness in the affected area
- Shortness of breath
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
- Hip pain
Be sure to seek treatment if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. There may also be outwardly physical signs of vertebral compression fractures, like:
- Loss of height
- Visible deformity of the spine
- A hunched back (dowager’s hump)
How are Vertebral Compression Fractures Diagnosed?
Visiting a doctor when you’re in pain can be overwhelming – all you know is that you’re uncomfortable and you need relief, ASAP. To help you prepare for your appointment, here are some questions your doctor will likely ask you:
- How long have you been in pain? Did the pain develop suddenly or gradually?
- Where is the pain located? What is the intensity?
- Does the pain travel to other parts of the body?
- In what positions is the pain better or worse?
- Is the pain getting worse or better over time?
After learning about your symptoms, your doctor may recommend a few diagnostic tests to confirm what’s at the root of your back pain. Some common diagnostic tests include:
- A spinal X-ray to determine the presence of a fracture
- An MRI or nuclear bone scan to check the age of the fracture and other possible injuries in the surrounding soft tissues
How are Vertebral Compression Fractures Treated?
Vertebral compression fractures are quite uncomfortable, but here’s the good news – many cases can be treated without surgery. Depending on the extent of the fractures and the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend a combination of the following nonsurgical treatments:
- Medications to relieve bone, muscle, and nerve pain
- A temporary reduction in activity
- Bracing to temporarily limit spinal twisting and promote healing
- Medications to help improve bone density
- Physical therapy
- Epidural spinal injections
If your pain doesn’t improve with nonsurgical treatments or if your fractures simply fail to heal, your doctor may recommend minimally invasive surgery.
Spinal injury treatment has come a long way over the last few decades. Many people with vertebral compression fractures and other back conditions can recover from their injuries relatively quickly and with little inconvenience. Still, it’s best to try to avoid these ailments altogether. Here are a few simple tips that can help keep your spine healthy and strong well into the future:
- Exercise about three times a week to help build strong bones and strengthen the muscles that support your spine. Be sure to check in with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, though.
- Eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet with plenty of calcium, Vitamin D, and phosphorus.
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use.
- Stay hydrated and keep your bones healthy by drinking six to eight cups of water per day.
- Sit up straight! Keep your spine in a healthy, neutral posture and avoid slumping.
Florida Medical Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine & Spine is proud to serve families in Tampa and Wesley Chapel, Florida.