A fractured vertebrae occurs when one of the spinal bones collapses. Patients with osteoporosis may be more likely to fracture the vertebrae as the bones are generally weaker and more brittle. When the bone mass begins to deteriorate, the chance of a fracture increases.
Fractures can also be caused by accidents such as falls and car crashes. In osteoporosis fractures can occur through normal daily activities. Fractures can also happen when an infection or tumour has attacked the bone.
Constant pain in the back that is further exacerbated by movement is a major symptom of a vertebral fracture particularly after trauma. In osteoporosis fractures can follow minor trauma or be spontaneous.
When vertebra collapse there can be pressure or injury to the spinal cord or nerves in your back. This may cause numbness or weakness in the arms or legs. In serious injuries there can be loss of bowel and bladder function.
Depending on where the fracture occurs, pain can also be evident in then sides of the abdomen and stomach, with breathing difficulty slightly increased.
An X-ray, CT or MRI scan can be undertaken to pinpoint the area that is damaged. Once the location of the fracture is found, treatment can begin.
Treatment is dependant on the cause, severity and location of the fracture. The condition needs to be assessed by a doctor.
Many fractures heal and can be treated by painkillers with or without a brace, to support the back. In more serious injuries treatment may be needed.
New minimally invasive (keyhole) techniques such as balloon kyphoplasty where cement is injected into the injured vertebra to reinforce it or percutaneous stabilistaion where metal rods and screws are inserted into the spine again via a keyhole technique to reconstruct the injured spine have revolutionised treatment and patient recovery.
The general rehabilitation process is four-six weeks although it could take up to 16 weeks to rebuild completely. The age and activity of the patient will have an effect on the bone development.
Patients can be fitted with a specially designed brace to discourage strenuous back activity with rest highly recommended in the early stages of recovery.
An exercise programme to improve balance, posture and general core strength is often recommended.