Vertebral Compression Fracture Diagnosis and Treatments
Diagnosing Vertebral Compression Fractures
It’s important to start with an accurate diagnosis before treatment begins, especially if the fracture is due to a condition such as osteoporosis. If treatment starts without an accurate diagnosis, patients could be at risk of continued side effects that can include:
- Continued back pain
- Lower quality of life
- Increased isolation from social activities
- Increased mortality rate of 15% in women
- Increased chance of 20% in women that they will experience another VCF in the next year
Accurately diagnosing a fracture that’s caused by osteoporosis can be difficult. Many older patients are misdiagnosed with conditions such as muscle strains or spinal arthritis. Some studies estimate that only about one-third of VCFs are accurately diagnosed.
In order to achieve an accurate diagnosis, it’s important that your doctor take you through a complete medical history, physical exam, and ask pertinent questions such as:
- Whether the pain started suddenly or gradually
- Where the pain is located
- How intense the pain is
- What activities or positions make the pain better and worse
- If the pain is radiating into the legs and arms
Treatment Options for Vertebral Compression Fractures
Our spinal specialists will almost always recommend trying conservative treatments before turning to spine surgery, depending on your condition and how severe your pain might be.
- Taking pain medications for pain relief and to ease inflammation
- Using hot and cold compresses on the affected areas of the back
- Using physical therapy exercises to stretch, massage, and strengthen the back
- Reducing your activity levels, potentially even going on bed rest
- Wearing a back brace to limit the motion in your back and provide extra support
Least Invasive Procedure Option
There are two procedures that can be used to fill the affected vertebrae and return them to their original shape; these are called a kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty. They are very similar to each other but use different products to stabilize the fracture. Your spinal surgeon will use an x-ray to guide a needle into the fractured vertebra and then inject it with bone cement. During a vertebroplasty, the bone cement is injected into the fractured bone. In the kyphoplasty, the fractured bone is expanded with an inflated balloon to reduce the compression; the balloon is then filled with the bone cement. Many spine surgeons use one or the other procedure based on their preference and as determined by the condition of the patient.