Every year, more than half a million people get a vertebral compression fracture due to osteoporotic, thinning bones.
Among younger people, motor vehicle accidents and other trauma can also cause fractures of the vertebrae. Tumors metastasizing to the spine and weakening the bones are a third cause.
Each of these categories of vertebral compression fracture presents its own problems.
If you’ve been thrown off a motorcycle and smashed your vertebra, you’ve got serious pain. And there’s a good chance that the nerves of the spinal cord have gotten impinged. That can be a surgical emergency.
Tumors that metastasize to the spine can also cause intense pain and neurological compromise.
On the other hand, many older people with osteoporotic fractures don’t even know they’ve gotten them. You might have pain, but the pain could also be minimal. And spinal cord impingement is far less likely. You can fracture an osteoporotic vertebra in a fall or other trauma, from something as simple as sneezing, or without any specific cause at all.
Vertebral compression fractures due to thinning bones are a serious problem, too, because they throw off your postural alignment. In most cases, the front half of the vertebra gets crushed, causing a forward-bent deformity known as kyphosis. That puts the rest of your spine, your hip joints and knees, and even your internal organs under greater stress, and interferes with normal activities including standing and walking.
The mainstay of treatment for osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures has been bracing to stabilize the spine and help the vertebra to heal, hoping that the postural deformity won’t be too significant.
But in the last ten to twenty years, the surgical techniques of vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty have emerged. In each of these procedures, the surgeon actually injects bone cement into the fractured vertebra to stabilize it. In theory, this reduces pain, speeds healing, and prevents postural distortion. I’m not a surgeon and don’t have an opinion about the specific indications for either of these procedures. But they have had a fairly high success rate when used appropriately.
In my practice, I occasionally treat cases of vertebral compression fracture during the later phases of healing after the fracture has stabilized. My treatment method NeuroTactile® Therapy can alleviate pain. And the movement skills training I offer can improve spinal mobility and posture while increasing the strength of core trunk muscles.