You may need rest, bracing, and physical rehab to overcome the effects of a fractured vertebra. Sometimes, however, the break compromises spinal stability, leading to significant pain and decreased mobility. Even then, the fracture is usually repairable with a minimally invasive in-office procedure.
At Yale Neurosurgery New London, our neurosurgeon, Dr. Patrick Doherty, creates individualized treatment plans for painful spinal conditions. Our team aims to decrease pain, restore mobility, and improve your overall quality of life with the most conservative therapy possible.
Read what your strategy for vertebral fractures may include and why.
What is a vertebral fracture?
Your spinal column includes 33 stacked bones (vertebrae) that support about half your body weight. Muscles supply the remaining support necessary for standing, walking, running, bending, or sitting upright.
The vertebral column also creates a protective tunnel, the spinal canal, through which your spinal cord travels. Small openings (foramen) in the vertebrae allow nerves to exit the canal and branch into the peripheral nervous system, providing movement, sensation, and autonomic functions such as breathing and heartbeat.
Fractures occur when one or more vertebrae break due to injury or disease. Physicians categorize vertebrae fractures according to where they occur along the spine, i.e., the neck (cervical spine), mid to upper back (thoracic spine), and lower back (lumbar spine).
Dr. Doherty develops a treatment strategy based on the fracture’s location, the fracture pattern or type, and whether the break causes spinal instability and persistent pain.
Can a vertebral fracture cause paralysis?
Traumatic vertebral fractures, such as those sustained during a car accident, can result in extensive spinal injury and other life-threatening wounds.
For instance, a fracture-dislocation occurs when vertebral bodies and soft tissue structures tear apart. These types of fractures are a common cause of full or partial paralysis. Treatment for these injuries includes emergency care, extensive surgery, and long-term rehab.
Fortunately, while all require care, most vertebral fractures don’t result in paralysis and respond well to conservative therapies.
How we treat vertebral fractures
Common vertebral fracture types and treatments include:
Compression fractures are the most common type of vertebral fracture and are usually triggered by osteoporosis. This frequently age-related condition causes your bones to lose density, sometimes weakening them enough that even plopping into your favorite chair can result in a fracture.
A stable compression fracture — meaning the vertebra is not shifting out of alignment or encroaching on nearby structures — often responds well to pain meds, bracing, and physical therapy. It may also benefit from treatment that helps slow the progression of osteoporosis.
If conservative treatment isn’t enough, Dr. Doherty may recommend an in-office kyphoplasty. During this procedure, under X-ray guidance, he accesses the damaged vertebra via a needle puncture.
He inserts a tiny medical balloon that, once inflated, pushes the fractured bones back into position. Dr. Doherty then injects quick-drying bone cement into the space, restoring the vertebra’s size and strength.
Burst fractures are often related to trauma that severely compresses your spine. For instance, falling from a significant height and landing on your feet can cause a burst fracture. However, bone health compromised by osteoporosis may result in a burst fracture with a short hop off a step.
Unlike typical compression fractures that frequently affect just the front portion of a vertebra, burst fractures cause the entire vertebral body to break apart.
A stable burst fracture may respond to bracing or kyphoplasty. However, an unstable burst fracture typically requires spine surgery, such as laminectomy and fusion via minimally invasive robotic surgery, to relieve pressure on nearby nerves and stabilize the spine.
Schedule an evaluation with us at Yale Neurosurgery New London in New London, Connecticut. We’re happy to provide more information about the services we offer to relieve pain, restore mobility, and improve your quality of life.