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What Are The Best Treatments For Vertebral Compression Fractures?

Date: August 24, 2021

Vertebral compression fractures (VCFs) are caused by weak or brittle bones. Women over the age of 45 years old are at a higher risk for compression fractures, especially those who are diagnosed with severe osteoporosis.

There are a variety of treatment options, which will vary depending on your medical history and lifestyle.

What Is A Vertebral Compression Fracture?

While many bone fractures are caused by more significant force, if your bones are weak and brittle from osteoporosis, everyday activities and movements can lead to a VCF.

This may include something as simple as:

  • Stepping out of the shower
  • Lifting a light object
  • Rolling over in bed
  • A forceful sneeze
  • Opening the window
  • Carrying in the groceries
  • Bending over to pick something up off the floor

A fracture may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you feel back pain after completing one of the basic tasks above. As always, listen to your body as pain is not meant to be a way of life.

Am I At Risk For A VCF?

Approximately 25% of all postmenopausal women and 80% of women over the age of 80 will have at least one VCF. This is because bones begin to weaken as natural estrogen levels decline.

Your individual risk increases if you have osteoporosis or any health condition that can weaken your bones. While the risk is lower, older men and children under the age of 12 can also experience a VCF.

If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or it runs in your family, follow your physician’s instructions with the intention of minimizing bone density loss.

You can take a proactive approach by doing things such as:

Count your calcium intake—women under the age of 50 should aim for 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Women over the age of 50 should aim for 1,200 mg of calcium per day.

Spread your calcium intake out throughout the day, including food and supplemental sources of calcium.

Count your vitamin D intake—vitamin D helps our body to absorb the calcium we consume, but 35% of adults are deficient.

Simply head outside 3 days a week, spending 10 to 30 minutes in the sun. If you don’t get enough sunlight, you can take vitamin D supplements. Many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle—stop smoking, limit alcohol consumption, move more each day, and don’t skip your annual physicals. Also, maintain a healthy weight.

When it comes to VCFs, those who are underweight or who have struggled with anorexia or bulimia may be at a higher risk.

What Are The Symptoms Of A VCF?

Symptoms can be mild to severe including any of the following, but sometimes there are no symptoms:

  1. Sudden onset of back pain
  2. Standing or walking makes the pain worse
  3. Lying on one's back makes the pain less intense
  4. Limited spinal mobility
  5. Height loss
  6. Deformity and disability

How Is A Vertebral Compression Fracture Diagnosed?

A VCF cannot be diagnosed without some type of imaging. While X-rays show spinal alignment and disc degeneration, your physician may request a CAT scan, MRI, or bone densitometry test.

A CAT scan provides a more realistic view of the shape and size of your spine. The CAT scan results may be performed in conjunction with a myelogram.

This is a spinal tap where dye is administered near the spinal cord to highlight detailed bone narrowing.

An MRI provides an advanced 3D image of the body structure. In terms of the spine, it empowers your physician to see your spinal cord and nerve roots from all angles.

A bone densitometry test may be ordered if your physician suspects that you have developed osteoporosis. This advanced x-ray machine is able to detect changes in bone mass in targeted areas of the spine.

What Are The Top Treatments For Vertebral Compression Fractures?

If rapidly diagnosed, the majority of VCFs will heal naturally over the next 3 months. While full recovery will take a few months, your pain can be alleviated within the first few days or weeks.

Several studies have found that using stem cell therapy in conjunction with other therapies has been found to be useful.

To allow your body to heal naturally, treatment will likely include:

  • Prescribed pain medications, muscle relaxers, or nerve block spinal injections to minimize pain
  • Bracing your back
  • Bed rest
  • Modifying your daily physical activities
  • Physical therapy

If your pain is severe, immobility is prolonged, your fracture was not treated rapidly and has progressed, or non-surgical treatments have failed you may be a candidate for kyphoplasty or vertebroplasty.

Both are outpatient surgeries that deliver rapid results.

What Is A Vertebroplasty?

Vertebroplasty is an outpatient surgery that involves injecting cement into the vertebra to eliminate bone-on-bone contact. If your physician determines that vertebroplasty is right for you, the surgery is short and has a fast recovery time.

Your surgeon will provide you with a sedative or general anesthesia. Then they will apply a protective radiation layer to your body and use continuous X-ray fluoroscopy to view and guide a needle into your vertebra.

Once in position, they will inject cement into the vertebra to fill it in. In some instances, two injections are required.

You’ll need to lie still and on your back for at least one hour and remain in the recovery room for 2 or 3 hours total.

Some patients experience relief from their fracture the same day, sometimes it takes up to 72 hours. You may need to continue wearing a back brace until your follow-up appointment in 2 or 3 weeks.

What Is A Kyphoplasty?

Kyphoplasty is also an outpatient surgery with a fast recovery time. The procedure involves inflating a miniature balloon in-between the fractured vertebrae, then filling it in with a cement-like material.

Your surgeon will place you under general anesthesia. They will apply a protective radiation layer to your body to protect your organs from radiation while using continuous X-ray fluoroscopy.

The fluoroscopy allows your surgeon to guide a tube into your vertebra. They will make a small incision in your back and guide the tube into the fractured area. Once in place, they will inflate a small balloon to return the vertebra to its natural position.

The balloon is then removed, and a cement-like material is injected in between the vertebrae to stabilize the bones.

You’ll need to lie still and on your back for at least one hour and remain in the recovery room for 2 or 3 hours total.

Some patients experience relief from their fracture the same day, sometimes it takes up to 72 hours. You may need to continue wearing a back brace until your follow-up appointment in 2 or 3 weeks.

Would You Like To Learn More About Your Treatment Options?

If you live in the Phoenix area and would like to learn more about your treatment options for vertebral compression fractures—we invite you to reach out to Atlas Pain Specialists.

Dr. Sean Ormond’s objective is to personalize your treatment, minimize or eliminate your pain, and improve your quality of life. Book your same-day initial appointment now

About Dr. Sean Ormond
Dr. Sean Ormond in black medical uniform and black fog background
Dr. Sean Ormond is dual board-certified in Anesthesiology and Interventional Pain Management. He completed his anesthesia residency at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio where he served as Chief Resident, followed by an interventional pain management fellowship at Rush University in Chicago, IL. Following fellowship, Dr. Ormond moved to Phoenix and has been practicing in the Valley for a few years before deciding to start his own practice.