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Vertebral Compression Fracture

vertebral compression fractureWhat is a vertebral compression fracture?

A vertebral compression fracture occurs when the block-like part of an individual bone of the spine (vertebra) become compressed due to trauma. Usually the trauma necessary to break the bones of the spine is quite substantial. In certain circumstances, such as in elderly people and in people with cancer, these same bones can be fragile and can break with little or no force. The vertebrae most commonly broken are those in the lower back, but they may break in any portion of the spine.

What causes a vertebral compression fracture? 

Vertebral compression fractures can be caused by osteoporosis, trauma, and diseases affecting bone (pathologic fracture).

  • Osteoporosis
    • Osteoporosis is a disease of bone in which bone density is reduced, which may increase the chance that a person could sustain a vertebral compression fracture with little or no trauma.
    • Osteoporosis most commonly occurs in women who have completed menopause, but it can also occur in elderly men and in people who have had long-term use of a steroid medication such as prednisone.
  • Trauma: Injury severe enough to cause a vertebra to break can occur with a fall from a tall height in which the person lands on his or her feet or buttocks. It can also occur in a person involved in a car accident.
  • Pathologic fracture
    • Pathologic fracture is a fracture occurring in the vertebra due to preexisting disease at the fracture site.
    • Most commonly, this type of break is from cancer in the bone, which has often traveled from other sites in the body (called metastasis), such as from the prostate, breast, or lungs.
    • Pathologic fracture can also occur with other diseases, such as Paget’s disease of bone and infection of bone (osteomyelitis).

What are the symptoms of a vertebral compression fracture? 

  • Pain: It tends to be in the lower back but may occur in the middle or upper back or neck. Some people may also have hip, abdominal, or thigh pain.
  • Numbness, tingling, and weakness: Such symptoms could mean compression of the nerves at the fracture site.
  • Losing control (incontinence) of urine or stool or inability to urinate (urinary retention): If these symptoms are present, the fracture may be pushing on the spinal cord itself.

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