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Do Vertebral Fractures Require Surgery?
Do Vertebral Fractures Require Surgery?

Most of the time vertebral fractures can be successfully treated without surgery.  Doctors most often recommend conservative pain management as a first-line treatment.  These types of fractures usually heal in approximately three or four months, if there are no complications.

What causes vertebral fractures?

The two main causes of vertebral fractures are trauma to the spine and osteoporosis.

  • Spinal Trauma – This can be the result of an accident, such as a car accident or significant fall.  A sports injury may also cause trauma to the spine.  A fracture can happen anywhere along the spine and can vary widely in severity.  The spinal cord or nerves may also suffer damage.  Fractures caused by trauma may require emergency treatment to stabilize the spine.
  • Osteoporosis – Vertebral fractures due to osteoporosis are referred to as compression fractures.  They may result from a minor fall or even simple daily activities such as bending or lifting.  Osteoporosis results in the loss of bone density, which leaves bones weak and at increased risk of breaking.  Compression fractures occur when the vertebrae collapse, which decreases the space between them.

Symptoms of Vertebral Fractures

Senior man with symptoms of spinal trauma
  • Trauma – Symptoms of fractures caused by trauma can include intense sharp pain in the back, which may feel worse when moving; swelling and tenderness in the area around the break; weakness, tingling and numbness in the extremities; changes in posture; and incontinence.
  • Osteoporosis – Some people with breaks resulting from osteoporosis may have no initial symptoms.  Back pain may begin gradually in some people while others may have more significant pain.  Other symptoms include decreased height over time; stooped posture (humpback); loss of balance; and neurological symptoms including numbness, tingling, or weakness in extremities; incontinence. 

Treatments for Vertebral Fractures

Surgery may be needed to stabilize the spine if the fracture is trauma related and of a serious nature.  Compression fractures due to osteoporosis can be treated with pain medications, bed rest, and spinal bracing.  Physical therapy may be helpful.  Untreated compression fractures may lead to additional fractures, spinal deformity, and loss of function for the patient.   

In the event that surgery is deemed necessary for a compression fracture, there are two minimally invasive surgical techniques that can be used: vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty.  In vertebroplasty, bone cement is injected into the fractured vertebrae.  In kyphoplasty, a balloon is first inserted and inflated to create space for the cement to be injected.  The cement strengthens the vertebrae, reduces pain, allows the patient to stand straight, and prevents further fractures.

Atlanta Brain and Spine Care

Our neurosurgeons offer patients access to some of the world’s most advanced treatments and procedures in five convenient metro Atlanta locations.  Contact our office to schedule a consultation with our specialists.   

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