Acquire the license to the best health content in the world
Contact Us

Easing Back Pain

Treating compression fractures

(HealthDay is the new name for HealthScoutNews.)

SATURDAY, June 28, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Osteoporosis, a disease that affects more than 10 million Americans, can cause bones to thin so dramatically that even a minor trauma can cause a spinal fracture known as a vertebral compression fracture.

Most of the 700,000 vertebral compression fractures that occur annually in the United States are minor, reports Dr. Laura Paré, an associate clinical professor of neurological surgery at the University of California, Irvine. The main symptom is back pain, but it's often hard for older people to distinguish between the pain from a fracture and the everyday aches and pains of arthritis, says Paré.

In fact, she explains, the reason many people with osteoporosis have a hunched posture is because they have suffered repeated compression fractures.

X-rays, CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can all quickly diagnose a compression fracture. For less severe fractures, Paré says doctors usually treat patients with a brace, extra calcium, vitamin D and medications if necessary.

Treatment for more serious fractures is usually a surgical procedure known as vertebroplasty. Using X-rays for guidance, surgeons thread tubes and wires through the skin to the fractured vertebrae, and they then inject bone cement and antibiotics at the fracture site to strengthen it and reduce pain.

Another surgical procedure, known as kyphoplasty, is also available and is similar to vertebroplasty. The big difference is in kyphoplasty a small balloon is also placed into the vertebrae to help straighten out the area that was fractured. Paré notes vertebroplasty is a quicker and easier procedure.

More information

For more information on compression fractures and their treatment, go to the National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Laura Paré, M.D., associate clinical professor, neurological surgery, University of California, Irvine; National Osteoporosis Foundation; National Institutes of Health
Consumer News