According to AAFP, approximately 700,000 Americans suffer from the pain of vertebral compression fractures every year. While most of the patients who suffer from vertebral fractures are postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, anyone can suffer from this injury. Additionally, if this injury goes untreated, you could suffer long-term effects of fractured vertebrae. If you suffered a vertebral compression fracture due to a physical assault or a car accident that wasn’t your fault, Chicago back injury attorneys at Curcio Law Offices want to represent you. Call us today at 312-321-1111 for a free consultation.
What is a Fractured Vertebrae?
A fractured vertebrae is also called a vertebral compression fracture (VCF), which happens when one or multiple of the bony blocks in the spine break down. These fractures most commonly happen in the middle of the spine.
Symptoms of a Fractured Vertebrae
People can experience a variety of symptoms if they have one or multiple compression fractures. Additionally, spinal compression fractures can range from tiny, painless cracks over time to major cracks and vertebral damage that happens suddenly. Slight, gradual damage to the vertebrae will certainly result in more mild back pain. Meanwhile, major and sudden spine fractures will certainly result in debilitating pain. Listed below are some of the most common symptoms of a fractured vertebra:
- Sudden, severe pain in your back following an accident or intense movement
- Chronic pain that worsens when you do simple movements but gets better when you lie down
- Limited mobility, including difficulty bending or twisting your body
- Gradual “shrinking” or loss of height
- Kyphosis, which is a forward curvature of the spine
Signs That You May Have Multiple Compression Fractures
Osteoporosis sufferers, especially, may experience multiple fractures at one time. But how can patients know for sure if they have one spinal compression fracture or multiple spinal compression fractures? Listed below are signs that you may have more than one fracture.
- Gradual “shrinking” or loss of height
- Digestive issues because forward curvature of the spine can compress the digestive organs
- Hip pain
- Difficulty breathing because a stooped posture can compress the lungs
Common Causes of a Fractured Vertebrae
Most patients don’t experience vertebral fractures until their older years, but anyone can experience this injury from the common causes listed below:
- Metastatic disease or tumors
- Accidents such as falls, car accidents, sports injuries, physical assaults, etc.
- Forcefully and incorrectly lifting heavy objects
If you’re experiencing severe pain in your back following an accident or a forceful movement, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention so that you can receive an early diagnosis.
How Many People With Osteoporosis Also Suffer From Compression Fractures?
Osteoporosis causes weak and brittle bones (or decreased bone density) and is certainly the most common cause of compression fractures in older patients. In fact, VCFs are the most prevalent type of fracture in osteoporosis sufferers, impacting roughly 700,000 people each year, according to AAFP. Additionally, osteoporotic vertebral fractures affect around a quarter of all postmenopausal women in the United States.
Tests and Scans for Fractured Vertebrae
If you think you’re suffering from a broken vertebra, your doctor will likely order several tests in order to get a good picture of your spine, as there are various types of spine fractures. Tests and scans showing vertebral fractures include an X-ray, a CAT scan, a CT scan, an MRI, and a DEXA scan.
Doctors can easily see any kind of broken bone through X-ray guidance, including spinal compression fractures. Doctors can also see vertebral structures, disc degeneration, and bone spurs with X-ray guidance.
CAT Scan or CT Scan
A CT scan is basically a far more detailed X-ray scan. This kind of scan provides sharp images of bones, organs, muscles, and fat. CT scans may show spinal compression fractures and other spinal injuries or diseases in more detail than an X-ray.
An MRI can basically create 3D images of anything in the body with the help of powerful magnets. MRIs can create pictures of the spinal cord, spinal nerves, vertebral degeneration, and tumors.
DEXA or Bone Densitometry
This type of test may diagnose low bone density, which indicates osteoporosis. With proper treatment for this condition, patients can potentially prevent spinal compression fractures from happening in the future. Not only can a DEXA scan reveal bone loss, it can also detect vertebral compression fractures and measure body composition.
Treatment Options for a Fractured Vertebrae
If you decide to seek treatment for a vertebral compression fracture, your doctor will suggest multiple treatment options depending on the severity of your fracture(s). Doctors can treat vertebral compression fractures with both non-surgical and surgical treatments.
Non-Surgical Treatment Options
Minor spinal fractures can sometimes heal on their own, along with nonsurgical treatments such as pain medication, muscle relaxants, a back brace, and decreased mobility. Generally, healing the fracture and providing back pain relief aren’t the only goals. The other goal is to prevent bone loss and further vertebral fractures from happening in the future. To do this, your doctor may recommend diet and lifestyle changes that gradually increase bone density. You may also have to take medications that strengthen your bones, including Actonel, Boniva, and Fosamax.
Surgical Treatment Options
Severe cases of vertebral compression fractures that don’t improve with non-surgical treatments may require other treatments, such as spine surgery. The most common spine surgeries that can fix spinal fractures are vertebroplasties and kyphoplasties.
A vertebroplasty is generally a quick orthopedic surgery lasting one to two hours, depending on how many spinal fractures need repairing. The procedure begins with local and general anesthesia. Then, the surgeon injects bone cement into the fractured vertebrae with a small needle. The bone cement quickly hardens and improves spinal instability caused by the fracture(s).
A kyphoplasty is almost the same procedure as a vertebroplasty. The only difference is that the surgeon will use a balloon in order to guide the bone cement into the compressed vertebra. The balloon basically increases collapsed vertebra height and creates enough space for the bone cement to fill.
Criteria for Vertebroplasty or Kyphoplasty
Patients who struggle with the following health problems would likely be the best candidates for the aforementioned spine surgeries:
- Spinal compression fractures caused by osteoporosis have existed for more than two weeks.
- Spinal compression fractures cause mild back pain or severe back pain that proves to be unresponsive to non-surgical treatment options such as pain medication.
- Any metastatic disease that causes pain.
- Any spinal tumors that cause pain.
- Bone death is caused by poor blood supply. This condition is called vertebral osteonecrosis.
Reasons Why Patients Should Not Undergo Spinal Surgeries
If patients happen to suffer from any of the following health problems, they should not undergo a vertebroplasty or a kyphoplasty.
- A spinal compression fracture that healed on its own along with non-surgical treatments.
- A spinal compression fracture that has existed for more than a year.
- Spinal compression fractures that have caused an 80-90% vertebral break down.
- Stooped posture or a curved spine that’s caused by a condition other than osteoporosis. For example, scoliosis causes a painful and curved spine.
- Coagulopathy that hasn’t been treated by a doctor. This condition impacts proper blood coagulation.
- Osteomyelitis which is a condition that causes bone and bone marrow inflammation.
- Discitis, which is a condition that causes disc inflammation.
- Tumors that destroy the spinal canal in any way.
What are the Long-Term Effects of a Fractured Vertebrae?
Older patients who suffer from severe cases of osteoporatic vertebral fractures must seek treatment in order to reduce pain and increase quality of life. Those who don’t seek treatment can unfortunately experience the long-term effects of fractured vertebrae, which are listed below.
- Chronic pain
- Loss of mobility
- Loss of height
- Kyphosis, or severe spine curving
- Less independence
- Increased mortality
- Diminished quality of life
How to Support Bone Health and Osteoporosis Prevention
Although many patients don’t like to hear it, a healthy diet is the best way to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis. A balanced and nutrient dense diet includes fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and high quality animal products. Specifically, foods high in protein, calcium, vitamin K, vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc are crucial for building strong bones.
Additionally, incorporating regular exercise into your weekly routine is crucial because it can prevent low bone density. Lifting weights and performing strength training exercises can promote new bone formation. But really, any type of exercise is good exercise because it gets your heart pumping while strengthening your bones and promoting a healthy body weight.
Other things you can do to prevent an early diagnosis of osteoporosis is to stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption. Excess alcohol consumption can decrease bone density over time by killing bone-producing cells (osteoblasts) and increasing parathyroid hormone production. Too much of this hormone can suck calcium from the bones. Smoking can do the same thing to your body. It can kill osteoblasts and decrease calcium absorption into the bones.
Call Personal Injury Attorneys at Curcio Law Today
The Chicago spinal cord injury attorneys at Curcio Law Offices have decades of experience in representing victims suffering from all sorts of injuries, including spinal compression fractures. If someone else’s negligence caused you chronic pain of any kind, you deserve to receive financial compensation for your suffering and medical bills. Call us today at 312-321-1111 for more information.