Compression fractures

What are some symptoms of a compression fracture?

  • Sudden, severe back pain that may or may not be associated with trauma.
  • Worsening pain when standing or walking or with activity.
  • Pain may be relieved with rest or lying down.
  • Pain associated or increased with bending or twisting motion.
  • Height loss. More noticeable with multiple level compression fractures. With each level of vertebral collapse, the shorter stature becomes more noticeable.
  • Deformity of the spine. Usually seen as a curve or “hunchback” shape in the back, termed kyphosis.
  • Abdominal pain. This can be caused by the shorter spine putting pressure on the stomach leading to stomach and digestive issues such as loss of appetite, constipation and weight loss.
  • Breathing difficulty due to severe spinal compression causing the lung to not function properly.

What is causes compression fractures?

Collapse of one or more of the vertebra in the spine can be from an injury, such as a hard fall, but often occur in patients with arthritis or osteoporosis. In more rare instances, a compression fracture could be caused by a tumor in the spine.

Who is at risk for compression fractures?
Women with osteoporosis and older individuals tend to have less bone density and are at an increased risk of compression fractures. Osteoporosis thins the bones making them become weak and unable to bear the normal weight and pressures of daily activities.

How can a compression fracture be diagnosed?

A physical exam will reveal tenderness over the affected area. Further testing using imaging studies such as a spinal x-ray can show a compressed or shortened vertebra. The best tests include a CT scan or an MRI.

What are some treatment options?

Pain may be treated with pain medicine, bracing and activity modification. Back braces and physical therapy options may be suggested for supporting and strengthening the back. In cases of osteoporosis, medications and calcium supplements can help prevent further fractures by strengthening bone. Vertebral fractures typically take about three months to fully heal. There are a number of treatment options that help reduce pain from compression fractures, which include:

  • Kyphoplasty (this should be a link to kyphoplasty page)
  • Vertebroplasty (this should be a link to vertebroplasty page)