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Spine and Back Health

Compressed Disc & Osteoporosis

05/30/2008

Question:

My Grandma who is 81 years old has not been able to get out of bed for the last 5 weeks due to such severe back pain. They have now discovered it may be due to a compressed disc. She also has osteoporosis. Can this be related? Also, what would some treatment options be for someone of this age? Currently she is bed-ridden and is not able to sit up for more than 5 minutes.

Answer:

Hello, thank you for your question. I'm not aware of a "compressed disc" as being an accepted diagnosis, but the scenario you're describing sounds like it is highly possible that your grandmother has a "compression fracture", also known as a "vertebral compression fracture". This is a very common problem, especially in elderly females, and especially in thin, Caucasian elderly females in particular. It is caused by osteoporosis (thinning of the bone with age), and results in often extreme pain in the back whenever the person tries to get up. It is thought that there are 700,000 vertebral compression fractures every year in the United States alone. These fractures are more common in elderly people with osteoporosis than hip and wrist fractures combined!

It is imperative that your grandmother get treated as soon as possible - the longer a person her age suffers from this problem, the more weakened and debilitated they get. Treatment starts with pain medication. If that doesn't work, a rigid spinal brace can be prescribed. If that doesn't result in acceptable reduction of her pain within a few days, she should be referred to a spine surgeon who has experience with a procedure called "kyphoplasty". It is a minimally invasive surgery in which two needles are inserted into the broken bone (while the patient is asleep), a balloon is inflated in the broken bone, and then medical cement is injected into the broken bone. It usually results in rapid relief of the person's pain.

You can find out about it online by just googling "kyphoplasty" or by looking at www.kyphon.com (although be warned that this is a commercial website run by the company that makes the equipment, and is, of course, heavily biased). This does not represent any endorsement or recommendation by NetWellness, and of course this procedure is only relevant to your grandmother if she really does have a compression fracture. You need to confirm the exact diagnosis first. Good luck.

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Response by:

David J Hart, MD David J Hart, MD
Associate Professor of Neurosurgery
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University