Vertebral Compression: What Causes It and How To Avoid It

November 12, 2012

Vertebral Compression: What Causes It and How To Avoid It

Vertebral compression fractures are the result of osteoporosis, injury or pathologic fracture; but it can be avoided with rest, a proper diet regime and possibly surgery.

Vertebral compression fracture is when the bones of the spine have broken because of trauma (or injury), usually very large trauma. However, for the elderly and people afflicted with cancer, the bones can break with practically no force whatsoever. The most common vertebrae to break are those in the lower back region.

Three Causes For Vertebral Compression Fracture

1 – Osteoporosis – This condition occurs when there has been a reduction in bone density, which can cause someone to suffer with vertebral compression. It typically happens in women who’ve been through menopause; but, can occur in older men or people who used steroid medication for long periods of time.

2 – Trauma – A fall from a very tall building is one way to break the vertebrae. It may also occur during a vehicle accident.

3 – Pathologic Fracture – This is when a fracture happens in the vertebrae because of a pre-existing disease at that point. For the most part, it’s because of cancer that has moved from one site to another like breast, lungs and prostate. A break could also occur because of a localized infection in the bone, which is known as osteomyelitis. This typically occurs in folks with diabetes or someone who does IV drugs.

Symptoms Of Vertebral Compression Fracture

There are several common symptoms with this condition including:

  • Pain in lower and/or upper back, neck, stomach, hips and thighs

  • Weakness, tingling and numbness, which could mean nerve compression at the fracture site

  • Loss of urine or stool control or the incapability to urinate, which could mean that the fracture is pushing on the spinal cord.

When To Get Medical Care and Tested For Vertebral Compressions

You might be wondering when you should see a doctor for back pain. Here are some instances were a doctor should be consulted:

  • Elderly

  • Cancer is present

  • The pain is constant regardless of activity or rest

  • Unexplained or intended weight loss

If you have any of the following symptoms with back pain, be sure to visit the emergency room:

  • No control over urine or defecation

  • High fever

  • Severe pain, weakness or numbness

The doctors will use the following tests and exams to determine the source of the back pain:

  • CT scan

  • X-rays

  • MRI

  • Spine surgery consultation – If the fracture warrants it

Treatment For Vertebral Compression Fracture

You can either treatment your back pain at home or, if severe enough, a doctor may choose another way to treat your back pain including prescribing medications:

  • Rest

  • Pain reliever

  • Ice pack alternated with heat pack

  • Stretching/strengthening program

  • Back brace

  • Hospital admission

  • Exercise – as long as your doctor clears you

  • Pain medications (Ibuprofen or Tylenol)

  • Surgery

Be sure you do everything your doctor suggests and ask him/her questions if there’s anything you’re not clear on. Failure to follow doctor’s orders could result in even more damage to the area and cause even more pain.

How To Prevent Vertebral Compression Fractures

If you’re going to prevent vertebral compression fractures, you need to stop osteoporosis in the first place. How do you do this?

  • Eat right, cutting out the junk food.

  • Get regular amounts of exercise

  • Don’t smoke

  • Increase your intake of Vitamin D and calcium, using supplements

  • Women should begin an estrogen replacement therapy program

  • Reduce or stop your daily steroid therapy… if possible.


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