Critical Meaning of Vertebra Fracture

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Why is the fracture of a vertebra so significant?

Ethel Siris, MD
You can break a vertebra in your 60s or your 70s or beyond. And a vertebral fracture, yes, many of them kind of don't get diagnosed, but often, they are painful, not all of them, when they occur. Some of them occur slowly, but some of them occur abruptly. Not only do you have back pain, but if you've had one vertebral fracture, your likelihood of additional vertebral and even other fractures is dramatically increased.

: This one is quite compressed if you look at how it's shorter than this one.

Ethel Siris, MD
If you've had one vertebral fracture and you get several more, you can develop a significant deformity, permanent deformity of your spine, which gets you hunched over, the so-called dowager's hump if it's in the upper part of the back. If it's in the lower part of the back, it can also cause some deformity down there. If you fracture parts of your spine, your spine gets shorter, which makes you shorter. Now, lots of things can make you shorter when you get older. You can get disk degeneration to make you shorter, you can get arthritic things to make you shorter. But if you get shorter because of osteoporosis, it's because of fractures in your spine, which may cause some deformity. The ribs, which are normally a couple of inches above the pelvis rim, start to come down toward the pelvis. It can actually rub against each other if you've had enough fractures. And your abdominal contents have less room because your chest is pushing down on your pelvis, so that your stomach is going to get a little bit squeezed, your intestines are going to get a little bit squeezed. You're going to get a protrusion of your abdomen, which a lot of people don't like the look of. But even as importantly as the way it looks, and I understand people don't like the way it looks, it means that you get full very quickly. So what do you do? You eat less. Well, if you eat less and your nutrition deteriorates, you're even more fragile and even more prone to falling, et cetera. So you, you don't want to get these fractures. If you've already had this problem, there are lots of things we can do to help. We can convince people to take smaller portions more often. We can encourage improvements in the content of their nutrition to keep them as strong and well as possible. Very importantly, if you've already fractured, for heaven's sake, we want to prevent any more. And we have drugs that will help us do that. So spine fractures can be devastating in terms of quality of life, in terms of function. These folks don't go out. They are afraid to fall and they don't like the way they look. And I've had lots of people tell me that they've just really cut back on their social lives, they get depressed, very bad.