Patients' Guide To
Spinal Fractures & Kyphoplasty

What is a Spinal Compression Fracture?

Spinal compression fractures are also called vertebral compression fractures (VCF). This type of spinal fracture can cause severe back pain and adversely affect your overall health. A VCF occurs when one or more of your spine’s bones—the vertebrae or vertebral bodies—fractures causing spinal bone to compress. When a vertebral compression fracture occurs, the vertebral body may collapse causing loss of normal vertebral body height.
Xray image of compression fracture with arrowX-ray shows a spinal fracture. Photo
A spinal vertebral compression fracture is often a result of osteoporosis, a metabolic bone disease that adversely affects bone strength (density, mass). Osteoporosis disrupts your body’s ability to replace old bone with new; the bone rebuilding process. The disease usually is progressively silent because you can’t feel your spinal bones weaken. Many people learn they have osteoporosis after a fracture event; and osteoporosis-related fractures can occur in other bones such as the hips or wrists.

Osteoporosis isn’t the sole cause of spinal compression fractures; they may also be the result of injury (eg, fall), and certain types of cancer and/or spinal tumors.

Complications of Spinal Compression Fractures
Multiple spinal compression fractures can cause your spine’s vertebrae to lose height, become wedge-shaped causing an abnormal change in posture, such as a stooped forward or hunchback shape. This abnormal forward curvature of the spine is known as kyphosis, and in some patients it can make even the most common activities, such as walking or standing up straight challenging.

Kyphosis can cause several health issues, including chronic back pain, stiffness, loss of height, and sleep difficulties. Over time, some patients with severe VCFs may be at increased risk for serious—even fatal—pulmonary complications. This is because the abnormal forward curve of the spine can compress your chest cavity, making it difficult to breathe. The postural changes associated with kyphosis can also load the spine abnormally and may lead to a greater incidence of fractures.

Non-Surgical Treatment of VCFs
Initially, patients with one or more spinal compression fractures may be treated with some bed rest, bracing, and/or pain medications.

  • Bed rest is typically recommended for only a short period of time. This is because too much rest can lower bone mineral density, weaken muscles, cause bed sores, and it may even increase your risk of pneumonia and urinary tract infections.
  • Spinal bracing not only helps reduce pain by keeping the fracture from moving but also prevents the fracture from causing a loss in height and/or spinal deformity.

Most patients heal using these methods, but some patients still experience persistent pain, progress to have a spinal deformity, and the potential for spinal canal compromise.

Minimally Invasive Spine Surgical Treatment for Spinal Compression Fractures
When surgery is necessary to treat a spinal compression fracture, some patients benefit from a minimally invasive surgical approach that involves implantation of bone cement to stabilize the fracture. There 3 different types of procedures. Vertebroplasty involves bone cement implantation alone, whereas balloon kyphoplasty utilizes an inflatable balloon that upon inflation helps restore lost vertebral body height. After the balloon is inflated and removed, the surgeon fills the void with bone cement. Another option is an implantable device that is filled with bone cement.

As with any surgery, there are potential risks. Minimally invasive surgical spine procedures—vertebroplasty, balloon kyphoplasty, and the specialty implanted device—are designed to minimize surgical risks as much as possible. However, there is a chance that one or more complications could occur. In advance of the surgery, the surgeon discusses the patient’s potential individual benefits and risks related to the recommended treatment option.

Continue Learning About Spinal Compression Fractures
Learn more about spinal compression fractures, including ways to prevent and treat these spinal bone injuries, with the following resources:


Updated on: 04/16/19
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