Vertebral Fracture

Even minor falls or trauma can produce a spine fracture. Many of these injuries will never require surgery, but major fractures can result in serious long-term problems unless treated promptly and properly. Spine fractures range from painful compression fractures, often seen after minor trauma in osteoporotic patients, to more severe injuries such as burst fractures and fracture-dislocations that occur following auto accidents or falls from height. These severe injuries frequently result in spinal instability, with a high risk of spinal cord injury and pain.

Osteoporosis, or weakening of the bones, can lead to painful vertebral compression fractures. Until recently the only treatment was bracing and narcotic medications which frequently lead to ongoing pain and progressive deformity. The spinal surgeons at Cleveland Clinic Center for Spine Health can now, using a new technology, re-expand the vertebral body (kyphoplasty) and augment its strength by injecting bone cement. This can be done as an outpatient in a minimally invasive fashion. In other cases cement injection without re-expansion of the fracture (vertebroplasty) can be performed.

What causes the fracture?

When an external force is applied to the spine, such as from a fall, the forces may exceed the ability of the bone within the vertebral column to support the load. This may cause the front part of the vertebral body to crush, resulting in a compression fracture. If the entire vertebral column breaks, it results in a burst fracture.

If the compression is mild, you will experience only mild pain and minimal deformity. If the compression is severe, affecting the spinal cord or nerve roots, you will experience severe pain and a hunched forward deformity (kyphosis).

Osteoporosis is the most common risk factor for fractures, as the disease causes bones to weaken.

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