What is a vertebral compress fracture?

A vertebral compression fracture is a condition characterized by the collapse or compression of one or more vertebral bones in the spine. This can result in a loss of height, altered spinal alignment, and pain. The most common location for these fractures is in the thoracic (mid-back) or lumbar (lower back) regions of the spine.

Causes of Vertebral Compression Fractures

Several factors can contribute to the development of vertebral compression fractures, including:

• Osteoporosis: Weakening of the bone due to osteoporosis is the leading cause of vertebral compression fractures. Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by low bone density and increased susceptibility to fractures.

• Trauma: Accidents, falls, or direct impact on the spine can cause vertebral compression fractures, particularly in individuals with already compromised bone health.

• Cancer: Cancer that has spread to the spine (metastatic cancer) can weaken the vertebrae and make them prone to fractures.

Symptoms of Vertebral Compression Fractures

The symptoms of vertebral compression fractures may include:

• Sudden onset of back pain, which may worsen with movement or weight-bearing activities.

• Loss of height and a stooped posture.

• Limited spinal mobility and difficulty in performing daily activities.

• Radiating pain or numbness if the fractured bone compresses nerves in the spine.

Diagnosis of Vertebral Compression Fractures

To diagnose vertebral compression fractures, healthcare professionals may use the following methods:

• Medical history and physical examination: A thorough evaluation of symptoms, medical history, and a physical examination to assess spinal alignment, tenderness, and range of motion.

• Imaging tests: X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography (CT) scans may be used to visualize and confirm the presence of vertebral compression fractures.

Treatment of Vertebral Compression Fractures

Treatment options for vertebral compression fractures aim to relieve pain, stabilize the spine, and promote healing. Depending on the severity and underlying cause, treatment may include:

• Pain management: Over-the-counter pain relievers or prescribed medications may be used to manage pain and inflammation.

• Rest and activity modification: Limiting activities that worsen pain and practicing proper body mechanics can help protect the spine and promote healing.

• Bracing: Wearing a back brace or spinal orthosis can provide support and stability to the fractured vertebrae while they heal.

• Minimally invasive procedures: Vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty may be performed to stabilize the fractured vertebrae by injecting bone cement or creating space using a balloon-like device, respectively.

• Surgical intervention: In severe cases or when conservative treatments fail, surgery may be considered to stabilize the spine and relieve pressure on the nerves.

Exercises for Vertebral Compression Fractures

Exercises for vertebral compression fractures should be performed under the guidance of a healthcare professional or a qualified physiotherapist. They aim to promote mobility, strengthen supporting muscles, and improve posture. Some useful exercises may include:

• Gentle range of motion exercises: Controlled movements of the spine to improve flexibility and mobility.

• Core strengthening exercises: Strengthening the abdominal and back muscles to provide support to the spine.

• Postural exercises: Focus on improving posture and alignment to reduce strain on the spine.

• Weight-bearing exercises: Low-impact exercises such as walking or swimming, with a healthcare professional's guidance, to improve bone density.

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