Aging, Osteoporosis and Spinal Compression Fractures

Spinal Fractures are Common As People Age
The type of fracture in the spine that is typically caused by osteoporosis is generally referred to as a compression fracture and are quite common – occurring in approximately 700,000 people in the U.S. each year.

The problem is that the fracture is not always recognized or accurately diagnosed – instead, the patient’s pain is often just thought of as general back pain or as a common part of aging. As a result, approximately two thirds of the vertebral fractures that occur each year are not diagnosed and therefore not treated.

Compression Fracture Risks
Vertebral fractures are usually followed by acute back pain, and may lead to chronic pain, deformity (thoracic kyphosis, commonly referred to as a dowager’s hump), loss of height, crowding of internal organs, and loss of muscle and aerobic conditioning due to lack of activity and exercise.

A combination of the above problems from vertebral fractures can also lead to changes in the individual’s self-image, which in turn can adversely affect self-esteem and ability to carry on the activities of daily living.

Because the majority of damage is limited to the front of the vertebral column, the fracture is usually stable and rarely associated with any nerve or spinal cord damage.

Two-Pronged Approach for Compression Fracture Treatment
Treatment of a spinal fracture caused by osteoporosis is usually two-pronged, including both treatment of the fracture, and treatment of the underlying osteoporosis that led to the fracture.

  1. Resolve Compression Fracture Pain: Kyphoplasty is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure that results in immediate pain relief in many cases. A special balloon is inserted and gently inflated inside the fractured vertebrae, then a cement-like material is injected. The goal of the balloon inflation is restore height to the bone thus reducing deformity of the spine. Most patients return to their normal daily activities after either procedure.
  2. Prevent Future Fractures: After sustaining one vertebral fracture, the patient is at risk for more fractures, so treatment of the patient’s underlying osteoporosis is an important part of the treatment plan. Osteoporosis treatment will typically include one or a combination of the following: calcium supplements, increased vitamin D, weight-bearing exercises, and hormone replacement therapy for women.