Spinal fractures can happen from something as dramatic as a fall or motor vehicle accident, or, in people with osteoporosis (loss of bone quality), from a simple movement like coughing or reaching overhead. Osteoporosis makes the vertebrae vulnerable to compression fractures.
If in a violent accident or fall, there can be acute and intense pain. If you are experiencing this, seek medical attention without trying to transport or mobilize yourself. Often there is pain with movement. If the injury was from a ground level fall, it is still possible to have a spinal fracture if the bone is weakened due to medical illness or osteoporosis. Spinal fractures often refer to trauma to the bone or ligaments from the base of the skull to the tailbone or coccyx. In low energy trauma, often the fracture of a vertebral body results in a compression without significant neurologic injury and without injury to the spinal cord or nerves. Sometimes, since the pain is mild, it is possible to mistake a fracture for a back sprain. It is important to evaluate if a fracture is suspected to ensure proper spinal alignment is maintained and the nature of the fracture does not pose a risk to the spinal cord or neural structures.
Compression fractures due to osteoporosis can often be managed medically or without bracing depending on the severity of the injury. In cases of intractable pain, cement with or without inflation of a ballon to restore height is used. In the trauma centers, spinal fractures from high velocity injuries are managed based on an evaluation of the stability of the spine and the neural elements that are at risk. Often braces are used to help support the spine until there is healing of the fracture. If there is significant compression or instability, goals of surgical treatment are to provide early stability to maintain good early mobility. If there is bone within the spinal canal, it is removed directly or indirectly with instrumentation.