The present study was designed to determine clinical and radiographic characteristics of unhealed osteoporotic vertebral fractures (OVFs) and the role of fracture mobility and an intravertebral cleft in the regulation of pain symptoms in patients with an OVF.
Patients who had persistent low-back pain for 3 months or longer and a collapsed thoracic or lumbar vertebra that had an intervertebral cleft and abnormal mobility were referred to as having unhealed OVFs. Twenty-four patients with an unhealed OVF and 30 patients with an acute OVF were compared with regard to several clinical and radiographic features including the presence of an intravertebral fluid sign. Subsequently, the extent of dynamic mobility of the fractured vertebra was analyzed for correlation with the patients' age, duration of symptoms, back pain visual analog scale (VAS) score, and performance status. Finally, in cases of unhealed OVFs, the subgroup of patients with positive fluid signs was compared with the subgroup of patients with negative fluid signs.
Patients with an unhealed OVF were more likely to have a crush-type fracture, shorter vertebral height of the fractured vertebra, and a fracture with a positive fluid sign than those with an acute OVF. The extent of dynamic mobility of the vertebra correlated significantly with the VAS score in patients with an unhealed OVF. In addition, a significant correlation with the extent of dynamic vertebral mobility with performance status was seen in patients with an unhealed OVF and those with an acute OVF. Of the 24 patients with an unhealed OVF, 14 had a positive fluid sign in the affected vertebra. Patients with a positive fluid sign exhibited a statistically significantly greater extent of dynamic vertebral mobility, a higher VAS score, a higher performance status grade, and a greater likelihood of having a crush-type fracture than those with a negative fluid sign. All but 1 patient with an unhealed OVF and a positive fluid sign had an Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group Performance Status Grade 3 or 4 (bedridden most or all of the time). In sharp contrast, all 10 patients with an unhealed OVF and a negative fluid sign were Grade 1 or 2.
Unhealed OVFs form a group of fractures that are distinct from acute OVFs regarding radiographic morphometry and contents of the intravertebral cleft. Dynamic vertebral mobility serves as a primal pain determinant in patients with an unhealed OVF and potentially in those with an acute OVF. Fluid accumulation in the intravertebral cleft of unhealed OVFs likely reflects long-term bedridden positioning of the patients in daily activity.