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VCF (Vertebral Compression Fracture) Overview
Compression fractures of the spine occur when a vertebra—the bones of the spinal column—cracks, fractures, or collapses. These spinal fractures are unique because they frequently occur without apparent trauma and may cause no symptoms, often going undiagnosed until other complications arise.(8) It is estimated that two-thirds of vertebral compression fractures are never diagnosed because many patients dismiss their back pain as a sign of aging and arthritis.(9)
Osteoporosis accounts for approximately 85% of all vertebral compression fractures (VCFs); trauma and malignancies make up the remainder of the cases.(5, 10, 11) When bones become fragile and brittle from osteoporosis, everyday activities can trigger minor vertebral compression fractures. Bending to lift an object or pick something up off the floor, missing a curb, or slipping on a wet surface can put the spinal bones at risk of fracture. In more severe cases of osteoporosis, coughing or sneezing can trigger a compression fracture.
Over time, these small hairline fractures permanently alter the strength and shape of the spine, eventually causing a vertebra to collapse. The ‘pain experience’ of a spinal compression fracture is different for everyone. In some cases, the fractures occur so gradually that the pain is relatively mild and unnoticeable. In others, the fracture is accompanied by sudden, severe “knifelike” disabling pain in the mid-to-lower part of the spine that can take weeks or months to go away.
Without intervention the pain may subside as the fracture heals, the vertebra heals in its deformed, compressed position. This shortened, compressed vertebra alters the normal alignment of the spine, putting the spine at greater risk for subsequent level fractures.(12,13) When multiple vertebral compression fractures have occurred, there is a significant change in the structure and shape of the spine.(14) This spinal deformation, called kyphosis, gives individuals a hunched-back appearance, often referred to as a “dowager hump.” Moreover, this structural change can affect the internal organs and body functions, negatively impacting the overall health of the individual and their quality of life.(15,16)