When Are Spine Compression Fractures Life-Threatening?

If you’ve experienced a sudden onset of back pain after experiencing severe trauma to your back or lifting a heavy object, a spine compression fracture or a vertebral compression fracture could have occurred. Spine compression fractures can not only be painful, but they may even result in other symptoms that could potentially be life-threatening. How do you know when to see a specialist to get help? 

If you think you may have suffered a spinal compression fracture, you should contact an experienced orthopedic spine doctor as soon as possible. They can conduct tests and advise you on the best course of action to relieve your back pain.

Spine Compression Fractures and Causes

These vertebral fractures are small breaks or cracks in the spine that, over time, could cause the spine to collapse in increments and curve over. The fractures mostly happen in the thoracic section of the spine, consisting of 12 vertebrae stacked on one another.

Spine compression fractures can happen to anyone, but the most common fractures result from osteoporosis. The more severe the osteoporosis is, the more spinal compression fractures that could occur. For example, in healthier spines without signs of osteoporosis, a severe impact caused by car accidents, hard falls, or sports injuries are more likely going to be the cause of a spinal fracture instead of osteoporosis. 

Patients with moderate osteoporosis can suffer from spine compression fractures just by falling or lifting heavy objects. However, spines afflicted with severe osteoporosis can have multiple fractures that are caused by doing the simplest tasks, such as sneezing or lifting light objects. In addition, this condition happens more frequently in women than men, especially postmenopausal women. Approximately 25% of all postmenopausal women are afflicted with spine compression fractures. 

Can Spine Compression Fractures Be Life-Threatening?

Although vertebrae compression fractures are not the direct cause of death, they can immobilize older adults from performing activities of daily living and degrade their quality of life. Although these fractures are most common in women, men are also at risk. Anyone who has had one spine compression fracture due to osteoporosis is at risk for additional ones occurring, potentially creating even more health concerns, including:

  • Severe amounts of pain while standing or walking
  • Limited spinal mobility
  • Deformities and disabilities
  • Constipation or bowel obstruction
  • Crowding of internal organs

The risk of further disability caused by continuing spinal compression fractures and inactivity gives women a 15% higher mortality rate than those who do not experience these fractures. In addition, the lack of activity and mobility can provoke other health issues, such as progressive muscle weakness, pneumonia, and blood clots.

How to Diagnose Spinal Compression Fractures

Imaging technologies to look at the spine is the best way to confirm whether you’re dealing with a spine compression fracture or some other source of back pain. X-rays will allow doctors to view the size and shapes of spinal bones. If an X-ray indicates an abnormally short vertebra, this can indicate compression has occurred.

CT scans will help the doctor see the spine in more detail and from many angles, while MRI scans can help confirm whether the vertebra or vertebrae in question have fractures or if something else is causing the back pain. MRIs may even be able to distinguish the age of the fractures, if they are actively healing or not healing at all, and can confirm if a spinal compression fracture is pinching a nerve. If there is some other reason for the back pain, such as a tumor or an infection, the MRI will detect that too.

Can Spine Compression Fractures Be Repaired?

Usually, these kinds of fractures can heal on their own. However, spine compression fractures can permanently change the shape and strength of the spine. If the fractures are not healing independently, you may have to see an orthopedic spine doctor to get the condition repaired. They may recommend courses of treatment that depend on the level of severity of the fractures, such as:  

  • Bed rest
  • An external back brace 
  • Physical therapy
  • Medications for the treatment of pain
  • Surgery

When symptoms are so debilitating and painful, an orthopedic spine surgeon can perform vertebroplasty. The orthopedic spine surgeon will inject bone cement into the fractured vertebra through an incision to repair and strengthen it. This minimally-invasive surgery can help reduce any potentially life-threatening symptoms of a spinal compression fracture and get you the care and help you need. 

Get in Touch With Spinal Specialists at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery Today

Back pain and disabilities that spine compression fractures can cause are serious matters that may even be life-threatening depending on who they affect. If you suspect you have a spinal compression fracture, get in touch with the orthopedic spine doctors at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery. We can conduct a free MRI review and advise you on how to heal your symptoms and relieve your back pain, no matter how severe.

The doctors at OLSS specialize in spine compression fracture treatments, minimally-invasive procedures, and pain management. We will do everything we can to restore a healthy level of activity that enhances your quality of life. If you’re experiencing back pain that keeps you from the activities you enjoy and has diminished your quality of life, call us at (855) 853-6542 or complete our contact form for assistance today.

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