My aging aunt lives with us. At 92, she's still pretty spry. But last week, she couldn't get out of bed because of back pain. The doctor says she has a compression fracture of the spine. They said this can happen just turning over in bed. But Aunt Millie is really very strong. Is it possible she did something to cause this? Maybe a fall that she doesn't want us to know about?
Compression fractures are the most common type of fracture affecting the spine. When stress on the spine from everyday movements is greater than the strength of the bone, the bone fractures and collapses down on itself. That's a vertebral compression fracture (VCF). Compression fractures are often the result of osteoporosis, a common problem in older adults (especially postmenopausal women).
Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bone. Sometimes the bones in the spine weaken to the point that even mild forces can lead to a compression fracture. Spine bones that are weakened from osteoporosis may become unable to support normal stress and pressure. As a result, something as simple as coughing, twisting, or lifting can cause a vertebra to fracture. Even a simple action like reaching down to pull on a pair of socks can cause a weakened vertebra to fracture.
An injury to the spine, such as from a hard fall on the buttocks or blow to the head, can cause a spinal compression fracture. Let your aunt's physician know you are suspicious of some type of trauma. There may be signs of a fall or trauma or other unrecognized injuries that should be identified.
Weakening of the bones can occur for other reasons besides osteoporosis. For example, Cancer weakens the spine bones and makes them prone to fractures. And cancer from other parts of the body often metastasizes (spreads) to the spine. Diseases or conditions that affect the parathyroid gland (near the thyroid) can also weaken bones. The physician will do a complete examination and rule out any of these other possible causes of vertebral compression fractures.
Paul J. Lynch, MD, DABA, and Nicole E. Berardoni, MD. Pecutaneous Vertebroplasty: An Effective Intervention for the Treatment of Vertebral Compression Fractures. In Pain Medicine News. December 2008. Vol. 6. No. 9. Pp. 85-92.
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