Definition

The bones of the back are called the vertebrae. A vertebral fracture is a break in one of these bones.

Vertebral Fracture

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Causes

A vertebral fracture can be caused by:

  • Osteoporosis —a condition of weakened bones
  • Getting a blow to the back
  • Falling down
  • Landing on your heels when jumping from a height
  • Having major trauma as from a motor vehicle accident

Risk Factors

Other than trauma, osteoporosis is the main cause of most vertebral fractures.

Factors that increase the risk of osteoporosis include the following:

  • Race: Caucasian or Asian
  • Sex: female
  • Advancing age:
    • Females: 60 and older
    • Males: 70 and older
  • Postmenopausal
  • Stroke
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Use of certain medications
    • Long-acting benzodiazepines
    • Tricyclic antidepressants
    • Anticonvulsants
    • Long-term steroid use
  • Limited physical activity
  • Housebound
  • Poor nutrition
  • Smoking
  • Mother or maternal grandmother with hip fracture (a genetic disposition)
  • Other factors that may increase the risk of vertebral fractures include the following:
    • Use of antipsychotic medications
    • Poor mental functioning
    • Poor mobility
    • Poor strength
    • Previous vertebral fracture within the last year

Symptoms

Symptoms may include mild to severe pain in the middle or lower back.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Test may include:

Treatment

Treatment includes:

Surgery

Vertebroplasty is a relatively new procedure. Liquid cement is injected into the vertebra. It can help relieve the pain associated with vertebral fractures. This is not a common operation. It is not suitable for everyone. Talk with your doctor to see if this option may be right for you.

Nonsurgical Treatments

Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Brief period of bed rest and a decrease in activity
  • Medication to control the pain
  • Strengthening exercises for your back muscles
  • Back brace

Treatment for Osteoporosis

Medications

To prevent further bone loss, medications may include:

If osteoporosis is the cause of your fracture, your doctor may prescribe the following:

  • Vitamin and mineral supplements, especially calcium and vitamin D—Studies indicate that the combination of calcium and vitamin D appear to help bone loss
  • Lifestyle changes to help maintain your bones—may include weight-bearing and resistance exercises for both the upper and lower extremities

If you are diagnosed with a vertebral fracture, follow your doctor's instructions .

Prevention

Building strong bones will help prevent fractures. However, most bone strength is attained by women before they are age 25. That makes maintaining bone density and strength at older ages even more important.

  • Get plenty of weight-bearing exercise. This includes walking, jogging, or certain sports such as tennis.
  • Do resistance exercises for arms and legs. This will help to improve your strength and balance.
  • Get plenty of calcium, vitamin D, and protein in your diet. Talk to your doctor if you think you need supplements.
  • If you have osteoporosis, you should talk to your doctor about treatment options. If you had an early menopause , talk to your doctor about this.
  • Stop smoking. Drink alcohol only in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake is two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
  • Eliminate any obstacles in your house which could cause you to fall. This may include throw rugs or furniture.