Vertebral Compression Fracture Overview

Occurring in about 700,000 people each year, a vertebral compression fracture is a vertebra in the spine that has decreased in height (15 to 20 percent) due to fracture. This condition is typically caused by osteoporosis, a disease in which the bones of the body progressively lose their density, making them weaker and more prone to breaking.

Vertebral compression fractures occur almost twice as much as other conditions related to osteoporosis, such as a broken hip. In addition, while not all vertebral compression fractures are the result of osteoporosis, this condition is an indication of the presence of the disease.

What Causes A Vertebral Compression Fracture?

When the vertebrae of the spine weaken, they begin to shrink or narrow and lead to a “bent forward” look. In their weakened state, the vertebrae are at a high risk for fracture, which occurs when too much pressure is placed on them. This causes the front of the vertebrae to crack and lose height.

A vertebral compression fracture can be the result of an injury following a fall, but those with osteoporosis can incur a fracture doing everyday activities, such as reaching or coughing.

Symptoms of a Vertebral Compression Fracture

Pain is the primary symptom of a vertebral compression fracture and the pain will resonate close to the break itself. It predominantly occurs in the middle (thoracic) and low (lumbar) portions of the spine.

Pain resulting from this condition increases in severity with standing or sitting for long periods of time and can often be relieved by lying down or resting.

How Is Vertebral Compression Fracture Diagnosed?

Following a medical history and symptom breakdown, Dr. LaRocca will perform a physical examination to assess the alignment of the spine and posture. He will also place pressure on certain points of the back to determine the source of the pain and whether it is the result of muscle or bone injury. Meanwhile, a neurologic exam will be performed to test for reflexes and muscle strength.

Diagnostic testing may also be conducted to determine a diagnosis, including:

  • Bone mineral density scan (DEXA): DEXA scans are used to assess the extent of bone loss as well as any additional fractures located in the spine or other bones.
  • Bone scan: This test can pick up and array of bone conditions and can also show the age of the fracture.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: This diagnostic imaging test shows soft tissue and bone, allowing Dr. LaRocca to see if the fracture has reached the spinal canal.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This tests reveals damage to the tissue surrounding the fracture for a clearer and more detailed look to help determine how old the fracture is.
  • X-ray: X-rays are used to examine the alignment of the spine and confirm a diagnosis of a vertebral compression fracture. Other conditions may also appear in the process.

What Treatments Are Available for Vertebral Compression Fracture?

The experienced and dedicated team at NJNBI, led by Dr. LaRocca, offers comprehensive spine surgery treatment options for vertebral compression fractures including anterior and posterior lumbar fusion surgery.