Friday, February 10, 2017

What Are Vertebral Compression Fractures and How Are They Treated?

As we age, back pain can be attributed to many different causes.  One of the most common, and painful, is what are known as “vertebral compression fractures”.    Although the cause for these compression fractures is not limited to aging, it is most common in those 60 and over.  These fractures occur as the vertebrae weaken over time through osteoporosis or other bone related conditions.

When the vertebrae are weakened, even the act of sneezing and coughing can be enough to create small hairline fractures in the spinal column.  Because these compression fractures will typically occur on the front side of the vertebra, it can cause you to lose height and/or develop a hunched back, otherwise known as kyphosis.  As the vertebrae become weaker they are no longer able to provide a normal level of stability to the spine and this can eventually lead to the collapse of one or more vertebrae.   

In many cases, the symptoms begin as a simple backache, however, the pain can become more severe and limit the ability to carry out normal daily activities such as cooking or showering.  Initially your health care provider may have you try more conservative treatment such as rest, pain medication, or bracing.  Often times these treatments do not provide pain control, allow for return of normal function, or are associated with significant side effects (nausea, vomiting, grogginess, increased risk of falling).  Left to heal on their own, most people will experience a moderate level of pain or discomfort for several months.

Kyphoplasty - a simple, minimally invasive surgical option - can be considered if the conservative care is not relieving the pain.   This 30-60 minute procedure works to stabilize the fracture and reduce pain.  A small needle is advanced into the fracture, guided by x-ray.  Medical cement is then injected and once this hardens it keeps the fractured bones from shifting and causing pain.  No incision is necessary and most often pain relief is immediate.  The procedure can be completed in ambulatory or outpatient setting without need for general anesthesia or admission to the hospital.

I have completed hundreds of these procedures with excellent results.  I also work with each patient to decide on what treatments are best for them.  Every patient and fracture is unique and it should be handled that way. 

If interested in further discussing non-surgical back care, please contact me for an appointment at 636.441.3444.

Pain Management Physician

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