A vertebral fracture refers to a broken bone in the spine, usually due to trauma (injury). A fracture can occur without injury when there is weakness in the bone due to osteoporosis, abnormal stress, tumor, or a combination of these things. Many fractures are not associated with any other problems or symptoms, other than the pain of the fracture itself. If a fracture is not causing any jeopardy to nerves or the spinal cord, and if it is a pattern that has a good chance of healing in time without any treatment, then it is considered “stable”. An “unstable” fracture is one that leads to unacceptable risk of neurologic injury or deformity, or has a high likelihood of progressively worsening or simply failing to heal in time. The difference between a stable and unstable fracture should be determined by your doctor. This is often a determination made over a period of observation, rather than on the basis of a single x-ray or scan. Many factors must be considered in determining the stability of a fracture, which may require interpreting several tests/x-rays over time before deciding. Watching for progression over time is actually one test to determine if a fracture will be stable in the long run. Fractures most often present with pain in the region of the body where the fracture has occurred. You may also experience pain from nerve impingement in the spine, including either the spinal cord or individual nerve roots (or all of the above). With nerve root impingement, there may be pain/numbness/tingling/weakness in an arm or leg. With spinal cord impingement or injury, there may be more extensive pain/numbness/tingling and/or weakness in the arm(s) or leg(s). The symptoms depend on the pattern and severity of the fracture, which depends upon the nature of the cause, the energy involved, and patient factors such as bone strength and quality, etc.
Once you have decided to have surgery, the following events take place:
Recovery time after vertebral body repair is minimal, although the pain is not always completely eliminated.