One slip on the bathroom tile. Bending down to pick up a shoe. Sliding backward on a sheet of ice. In a split second, each of these scenarios can cause a compression fracture and wreak havoc on a person’s daily life functioning. Unfortunately, compression fractures in elderly women are common.
In fact, forty percent of all women will have at least one spinal compression fracture, the most common type of osteoporotic fractures, before the age of 80 years. While these fractures generally heal on their own, some fractures fail to heal adequately, and a debilitating pain persists. The pain can leave a person immobile and vulnerable to more physical and emotional complications. What causes these fractures and how can they be treated?
Causes of Compression Fractions
While the bones that compose your vertebrae are very strong, like any bone in your body, they too can fracture. Below are three causes of compression fractures.
- Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens and thins the bones in your body. As a result, the bones are too weak to withstand normal pressure. Even normal activity can lead to a spinal compression fracture. In elderly women, it’s not uncommon to see a vertebral fracture result in a loss of height and a humped back.
- Trauma to the spinal vertebrae from a very hard fall, physical injury, or excessive pressure on the vertebrae can cause a fracture.
- Metastatic Disease frequently spreads to the bones of the spine. When cancer cells spread to the vertebrae, it weakens the bone until it collapses.
The majority of compression fractures occur in people with osteoporosis who already have weakened bones. Because osteoporosis is most common in elderly women, they are the most at risk for compression fractures.
Treatment for Compression Fractures
Vertebral fractures typically require three months to heal. Pain management using various medications, a period of rest, and modified physical activity help the healing process. Sometimes a brace is recommended to help support the back and remove pressure from the fractured vertebra. When treating osteoporotic fractures, it’s also important to address the patient’s osteoporosis with calcium, Vitamin D, and weight-bearing exercises.
However, if the vertebra is not healing, surgery may be recommended. The two most common types of surgery are vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. Both treatments are minimally invasive and are designed to help eliminate pain and stabilize the bone.
Unfortunately, after experiencing one vertebral fracture, a patient is at risk for more fractures. Patients with osteoporosis should continue to take calcium and vitamin D supplements, and exercise according to the doctor’s instructions. For women, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is also recommended as a means to strengthen the bones and prevent bone loss.
In all cases, patients with back pain that may be caused by a fracture should report to their doctor to receive a proper diagnosis and the appropriate treatment.