There are many causes of spinal fractures. Some are caused by trauma such as a fall or car accident and are generally medical emergencies. Some are caused by disease processes such as cancer that invade and weaken the bone structure causing spontaneous breaks. At Spine Institute of the Carolinas, we more commonly treat a kind of fracture of the spine known as compression fractures.
Fractures caused by osteoporosis most often occur in the spine. These spinal fractures — called vertebral compression fractures — occur in nearly 700,000 patients each year. They are almost twice as common as other fractures typically linked to osteoporosis, such as broken hips and wrists.
What causes compression fractures?
As we get older, our bones thin and our bone strength decreases. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become very weak and more likely to break. It often develops unnoticed over many years, with no symptoms or discomfort until a bone breaks.
Osteoporosis is a natural aging phenomenon. When the vertebrae in the spine weaken, they can narrow and become flatter. This can make elderly patients shorter and lead to a rounded back, a hump or a "bent forward look" to the spine.
The weakened vertebrae are at a high risk for fracture. A vertebral compression fracture occurs when too much pressure is placed on a weakened vertebra and the front of it cracks and loses height. Vertebral compression fractures are often the result of a fall, but people with osteoporosis can suffer a fracture even when doing everyday things, such as reaching, twisting, coughing, and sneezing.