The spinal vertebrae are spongier and less dense than the other bones in your body in order to accommodate movements like bending and twisting. This also means they are more vulnerable to fracture. A spinal fracture occurs when one of the bones in the spinal column breaks. This type of fracture is also known as a vertebral compression fracture because the bone that breaks (the vertebral body) often cracks and collapses, becoming compressed.
- Certain diseases, such as osteoporosis or cancer, are known to cause loss of bone mass and changes in bone structure, making them brittle and weak.
- Genetic factors and certain lifestyles, such as a low calcium diet, can also damage bone.
- Over time, the vertebral bodies can become so weak that normal activities such as bending over or lifting a bag of groceries can cause a spinal fracture.
Although you can't feel your bones getting weaker, you might feel a spinal fracture when it occurs. Sudden and severe back pain, out of proportion to the activity at hand, is a hallmark sign of a spinal fracture. For most of us, the thought of breaking a bone during normal, non-strenuous activity is difficult to imagine. Many patients mistakenly attribute the pain of a spinal fracture to a muscle strain or bad back. Further complicating the issue is that spinal fractures often occur with only mild, or even indiscernible, back pain.
- Symptoms commonly associated with spinal fractures that are caused by osteoporosis or cancer include:
- Sudden onset of back pain, unrelated or out of proportion to activity
- Back pain worsens with sitting or standing
- Back pain often relieved by lying down
Two types of minimally invasive procedures are available to provide relief from the pain of a vertebral fracture: vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty.