Weakening of the bones is fairly common in old age and may also occur in younger people who are in poor health. When this loss of structural strength affects the vertebrae of the spinal column, even a slight increase in pressure on them – perhaps due to a fall or sudden vigorous activity – can cause cracks and fractures, especially in the mid – and lower back.
Causes of Vertebral Compression Fracture
Osteoporosis is the most common cause of bones (including the vertebrae) becoming weaker and more susceptible to injury. The condition causes loss of minerals from the bones, making them less dense and more fragile. It mainly affects women after the menopause, due to hormonal changes, but men also develop osteoporosis to some degrees as they age. If you are a heavy smoker, alcoholic, do little exercise, or have suffered from an eating disorder (such as anorexia) and are still underweight and very thin, you have a high risk of developing osteoporosis.
Symptoms and Diagnosis for Vertebral Compression Fracture
If you fracture a vertebra, you will feel a sudden, severe pain in he area of your back where the injury has occurred. Damaged vertebra in your lower back may also cause pain around your pelvis and, if any nerves are irritated, numbness and tingling in your legs. In the upper part of your back, the pain may radiate around your chest and make breathing difficult. You may find it hard to move around, and even lying down can cause pain; coughing or sneezing may hurt too. This pain and lack of mobility is likely to take several weeks to subside. Your doctor may arrange for a CT or an MRI scan to assess the extent of the fracture.
Treatment of Compression Fractures
Treating the osteoporosis with medicines and calcium and treating the pain with analgesics. A brace or corset is sometimes recommended, to keep the back stable as the bones heal. Surgery may be needed if there is any loss of function because of bone pressing on the spinal cord or spinal nerves.
Risks and Recovery
Without treatment the shape of your spine and your posture may be permanently affected. While the pain lasts you are likely to find it difficult to perform everyday activities.