Even minor falls or trauma can cause a fracture of the spine. Many of these fracture injuries will not require surgery, but major fractures can result in serious long-term problems and require treatment promptly and properly.

Spine fractures range from painful compression fractures, often seen after minor trauma in elder osteoporotic patients, to more severe injuries such as burst fractures and fracture-dislocations that occur following car accidents or falls. These severe injuries frequently result in spinal instability, with a high risk of spinal cord injury and pain.

What Causes the Fracture?

When a great and instantaneous force is applied to the spine, such as from a fall, this forceful event may exceed the ability of the bone handle the impact. This may cause the front part of the vertebral body to crush, resulting in a compression fracture. If the entire vertebral column breaks, it results in a burst fracture.

If the compression is minor, you will experience only mild pain and minimal bone effect. If the compression is severe, affecting the spinal cord or nerve roots, you will experience severe pain and a hunched forward deformity (kyphosis). Osteoporosis is the most common risk factor for fractures, as the disease causes bones to weaken.

What are the Treatment Options for Spinal Fractures?

Non-Surgical Treatment

Most fractures are treated with immobilization in a brace or corset for up to 12 weeks. Bracing helps to reduce pain and prevent deformity.

Surgical Treatment

Severe cases may require surgery such as:

Vertebroplasty is a new surgical procedure that may be used to treat compression fractures. In this procedure, the surgeon inserts a catheter into the compressed vertebra. The catheter is used to inject the fractured vertebrae with bone cement, which hardens, stabilizing the vertebral column. This procedure has been shown to reduce or eliminate fracture pain, enabling a rapid return to mobility and preventing bone loss due to bed rest. However, it does not correct the spinal deformity.

Kyphoplasty involves inserting a tube into the vertebral column under X-ray guidance, followed by the insertion of an inflatable bone tamp. A tiny incision is made in the back. Once inflated, the tamp restores the vertebral body back toward its original height, while creating a cavity to be filled with bone cement. The cement seals off cracks and cavities, and prevents the vertebra from re-collapsing. After the cavity is filled, the tube is removed and the incision stitched.

Most compression fractures due to injury heal in 8 to 10 weeks with rest, wearing of a brace, and pain medicines. However, recovery can take much longer if surgery was done. Fractures due to osteoporosis often become less painful with rest and pain medicines.

Spinal Compression Fractures

Osteoporosis can lead to spinal compression fractures, also known as vertebral compression fractures, or VCFs. Hairline fractures can form in the vertebrae and add up, causing a vertebra to collapse. VCFs can cause severe pain, deformity, and loss of height, and can occur as the result of simple daily activities like bending to lift an object, missing a step while walking, or even coughing or sneezing.

These compression fractures typically occur in the front of the vertebrae, and when enough of them happen, the front part of the bone can collapse. The back of the vertebra, which is made of harder bone, stays intact, creating a wedge-shaped vertebra that can lead to the stooped posture known as dowager’s hump. This condition is called kyphosis.

Vertebra fractures can be treated with a kyphoplasty in Phoenix, Arizona. During this vertebral augmentation surgery, an Abrazo Neuroscience physician inserts a needle into the spine bone through the skin, and then guides it to the affected area using X-ray images. A device called a balloon tamp is passed through the needle and into the fractured vertebra, and the balloon is then inflated to help restore the height of the vertebrae. The balloon tamp is then removed, leaving behind a cavity that is injected with acrylic bone cement to prevent it from collapsing again.

Most kyphoplasty patients can return home the same day as their procedure and go back to their normal daily activities with no restrictions. There may be some soreness at the needle insertion site, but this shouldn’t last longer than a few days.

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