About Spinal Fractures

Spinal fractures are quite common. In Australia there are an average of 4,000 patients treated for osteoporotic spinal fractures each year.1

Definition

A spinal fracture (vertebral compression fracture) occurs when one of the bones in the spine fractures or collapses.

Causes

The bones in your spinal column can break or collapse as a result of bone loss. Primary osteoporosis and menopause aren’t the only culprits when it comes to bone loss. Cancer, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hyperthyroidism, and long-term use of corticosteroids also cause loss of bone mass and increase your risk for fracture.

Symptoms

Back pain is a signal that something is wrong. Sudden onset of pain or a chronic, dull ache in your back could indicate that a spinal fracture has occurred. If you have back pain that lasts for more than several days, schedule a visit with your doctor so that the cause of your back pain can be determined and treated.

It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your posture and height. Make it a point to routinely have your height measured by a healthcare professional. Spinal fractures can cause the bones in your spine to collapse, and as a result, height loss can occur.

Multiple spinal fractures can also cause postural changes or a dowager’s hump. If you’ve lost height or you have a dowager's hump, you should consult your doctor.

Risk Factors

Unfortunately, having one spinal fracture significantly increases your chances of having another. Over time, multiple fractures can disrupt the alignment of your spine, causing it to tilt forward (dowager's hump).

This forward curvature can become so pronounced that your balance is affected and your chest cavity compressed, making it difficult to breathe, eat or sleep properly.2,3 Other risk factors include your age, gender, and lifestyle.

Diagnosis

Report any new or unusual back pain to your doctor promptly. Early diagnosis can lead to more treatment options. A physical exam, together with an x-ray, can help determine whether you have a spinal fracture or not.

References

  1. AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.
  2. Silverman SL. The clinical consequences of vertebral compression fracture. Bone 1992;13 Suppl 2:S27-31.
  3. Gold DT, Silverman SL. The downward spiral of vertebral osteoporosis: consequences (Monograph). Cedars-Sinai Medical Center 2003.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 27 Sep 2010

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