Can a Vertebra Collapse?
- Posted on: May 15 2018
It may seem virtually impossible that a person could have one of his or her vertebrae collapse, but it can happen. This is called a compression fracture. The usual cause is osteoporosis, which thins and weakens the bones.
At DFW Center for Spinal Disorders, we diagnose and treat these types of fractures all the time. Here’s some more information about a collapsed vertebra.
What is a Compression Fracture?
A compression fracture is usually defined as a vertebra that has decreased at least 15-20 percent in height due to fracture.
These fractures can occur anywhere in the spine, but are most common in the thoracic spine. This is the upper back, consisting of the T1-T12 vertebrae. They rarely occur above the T7 vertebra. They also often occur in the lumbar spine, the bottom of the spine that connects into the hips.
Types of Vertebral Fractures
Usually these fractures occur in the front side of the vertebra. These are called wedge fractures because the front of the vertebra collapses, but the back of the same vertebra remains intact.
Two less common types of fractures are crush fractures, where the entire bone breaks; and a burst fracture, which involves loss of height in both the front and the back walls of the vertebral body. Burst fractures are the most unstable.
Spinal compression fractures are usually the result of osteoporosis, which is very common in postmenopausal women. It’s estimated that approximately one quarter of all postmenopausal women in the U.S. have had a vertebral compression fracture. Four times as many women have osteoporosis as men, but men can also develop this bone-weakening condition.
How Do These Fractures Happen?
It’s not as if these fractures require significant trauma. Once a person’s bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, seemingly insignificant activities, such as opening a window can fracture a vertebra. Obviously, things like falling on an icy sidewalk or missing a step create the force to cause a fracture. But for those with advanced osteoporosis, something as innocuous as a sneeze, cough, or just turning over in bed can fracture a vertebra.
Another cause can be cancer. Sometimes an unknown existing cancer can metastasize to the bones of the spine, further weakening them.
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