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Vertebral Compression Fractures

What is a vertebral compression fracture?

Vertebrae are the small square bones that stack up and form our spine. When one of those vertebrae breaks or collapses, the resulting injury is called a vertebral compression fracture. It can also be known as a spinal compression fracture.

How do these fractures occur?

Vertebral compression fractures can be caused by a few different things. Trauma is one of them, but, because of the strength of these bones, the trauma must be substantial and/or severe enough to cause a fracture. This is most frequently seen in younger patients.

However, for the majority of people, especially older patients, fractured or collapsed vertebrae occur because of weakened bones. As we age, we loose bone strength…this condition is also known as osteoporosis. Once the bone weakens, even routine stress on the spine can cause the vertebral body to fracture. Cancer patients are also at risk of developing these types of spinal injuries, either from the cancer itself or due to the side effects of cancer treating drugs.

How will you know if you have a vertebral compression fracture?

Trust us, you’ll know. Spinal injuries are not subtle. The most obvious sign of a vertebral fracture is the sudden onset of pain. Because most of these injuries happen in the lower back, that’s where the pain will be localized, though it can radiate outward to affect your hips and thighs as well. You might also feel some abdominal pain. If the injury happens higher up on the spinal column, however, the pain will be localized in your neck or shoulders.

In addition, some patients may feel a combination of weakness, tingling sensation and, eventually, numbness. If these sensations happen at the same time as the pain, it might be a sign that the compression fracture has compressed your nerves, too.

When to see a doctor

Most of us have learned how to deal with a fair amount of back pain, so we are unlikely to run to the doctor whenever we feel a twinge. However, because the pain associated with compression fracture is sharp and stabbing, it’s hard to ignore and makes even doing routine activities difficult!

Back pain associated with a minor sprains will most likely subside with over the counter anti-inflammatories and rest. If the pain lasts for more than a few days or keeps coming back, however, it’s a good idea to get checked out. If you don’t, you run the risk of developing complications and requiring hospitalization. If you’re already starting to see signs of rounding or find yourself stooping when you try to stand, it’s time to stop procrastinating. See an experienced doctor, and get it checked out before you get worse!

In addition, some patients may feel a combination of weakness, tingling sensation and, eventually, numbness. If these sensations happen at the same time as the pain, it might be a sign that the compression fracture has compressed your nerves, too.

Diagnosing a fracture

Your doctor will do an external physical examination and talk with you about your current lifestyle to find out whether any of those factors could be contributing to your pain or other issues. You will also likely have to have a few x-rays taken; sometimes unknown to you, there may be more than one level in the spine that may have a fracture. Your doctor may also recommend an MRI, so that the cause of all your symptoms can be addressed.

Treatment options

Again, this will depend as much on you and your overall health as it will the type and severity of your vertebral fracture(s).

While bed rest and pain medications are often the first line of treatment, both of these options come with a price. You can only rest so much, and it can take up to 6-8 weeks for the fractures to heal on their own. During that time, your activities are severely limited, And, we all know the side-effects of many pain killers especially if you need to take them for an extended period of time.

Another important reason to consider a more aggressive treatment, is, that once the spine becomes unstable from a fracture at one level, other levels may be put a risk for developing a fracture.

Until the turn of the century, not much could be done to treat vertebral compression fractures. Surgery of the spine is obviously a major undertaking and is not readily acceptable to many among us.

Fortunately, there are two minimally invasive non-surgical options that can help minimize the pain, improve your mobility fairly quickly, and, in the process, also help speed up the healing of the fracture. These are the twin procedures of vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty.

Both procedures involve injecting bone cement at the fracture site in order to stabilize the vertebral body. This is done safely under imaging guidance and does not require any incisions. More importantly, this treatment can be safely done as an out-patient procedure, helping you avoid hospitalization. Plus, you can expect relief within 48-72 hours after the treatment.


While both vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty involve the injection of cement, kyphoplasty attempts to elevate the compressed fracture, thereby trying to help minimize the back hump some patients develop following this type of injury. Kyphoplasty is really helpful for elderly patients who suffer from osteoporosis and consequently, their vertebrae have been slowly wearing down over time. This type of patient is at risk for having multiple levels of fractures involved and is more likely to incur additional fractures.


After a kypholasty or vertebroplasty procedure, you can move about immediately. However, it is generally recommended that you avoid any strenuous activity for couple of weeks.

You might also need to spend some time with a physical therapist to rebuild your posture and regain any motor functions that might have gone wonky because of your injury.

You’ll be able to gradually resume your normal activities as well as all the things you love doing. Vertebral compression fractures aren’t anybody’s idea of a good time, but they are treatable. When treated early, you can expect a full recovery and avoid further complications.

However, it is important to address any underlying conditions or factors that lead to the fracture in first place. Your doctor may run additional tests to determine the extent of osteoporosis and recommend additional treatment to help stop further weakening of your bones.

If you’re suffering from a vertebral compression fracture, book a one-on-one evaluation to better understand your treatment options and find out if, kyphoplasty or vertebroplasty is right for you:

About Dr. Gaurav Goswami, MD

Dr. Goswami - Stem Cell Therapy Specialist

Dr. Goswami specializes in Regenerative and Restorative Sports Medicine, providing advanced minimally invasive (non-surgical) treatments to athletes of all levels and ages. Tissue preservation, quick recovery, and little to no downtime are the cornerstones of his philosophy.

As a member of the American College of Sports Medicine, Dr. Goswami is focused on utilizing his years of experience to help his patients and athletes reach their maximum potential. Continually motivated by finding better ways to care for his patients, Dr. Goswami regularly holds public lectures and workshops to educate and help patients maintain an active lifestyle.

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