What are compressed vertebrae?

Compressed vertebrae is a condition that results from a spinal fracture. Ultimately contributing to spinal collapse, compressed vertebrae frequently occur in the presence of osteoporosis or injury. People with compressed vertebrae may remain asymptomatic, meaning they experience no symptoms or develop severe back pain that is central to the location of the vertebra experiencing compression. Treatment for compressed vertebrae depends on the location, cause, and severity of the spinal fracture.

Various diagnostic tests may be administered to confirm the presence of a compressed vertebra. An initial physical exam is usually performed to assess the physical presentation of the individual's back and spine. When compressed vertebrae are suspected, imaging tests, including a computed tomography (CT) scan and an X-ray, may be performed to assess the condition of the spine and the extent of the compression. For those who have not been diagnosed with osteoporosis, a bone density test may be administered to detect or determine the risk of the disease.

A spinal fracture can occur without the individual's knowledge and remain undetected indefinitely. Those who develop signs of spinal fracture may experience a variety of symptoms. Spinal fracture-induced back pain can be gradual or chronic and manifest in varying degrees, from mild discomfort to stabbing pain. Some people may lose inches from their height and adopt a stooped posture. Over time, the continued accumulation of spinal fractures can lead to the development of a condition known as kyphosis, or receding, which can cause tingling and numbness in the lower extremities, ultimately impairing the ability to walk.

Most vertebral fractures occur in the presence of weakened bone as manifested by osteoporosis. People with this potentially debilitating condition are more susceptible to injuries and fractures due to insufficient calcium and nutrients in the bones. Compressed vertebrae can also occur as a result of trauma to the back and spine. The accumulation of multiple spinal fractures may ultimately contribute to spinal collapse. With prompt treatment, people who sustain a spinal fracture usually recover within a couple of months after the initial fracture.

In most cases, a compression fracture is treated with pain medication to relieve any discomfort and physical therapy to restore function and strength. Depending on the severity of the fracture, additional measures, including bed rest and bracing, may be used to prevent further injury. Severe compression fractures may require surgical correction, which involves the use of specialized cement to reinforce the affected vertebra and relieve disabling pain.

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