Compression Fracture: Symptoms, Treatment

Overview

Compression fracture happens when the bones of your back, or vertebrae, collapse.

In your back, the spinal bones, or the vertebrae can be divided into two sections.

The upper section is a ring-shaped spinal vertebrae arch, which is mainly responsible for protecting your spinal cord.

The lower section is the vertebrae body, which is cylindrical-shaped and is in charge of supporting the majority of the spinal structures.

When compression fracture occurs, it is the vertebrae body that collapses. The condition can happen to only one spinal bone. Or sometimes, it can happen to several spinal bones at the same time, which may then be called as multiple compression fractures.

Multiple compression fractures can trigger spinal deformity such as kyphosis.

For people with a compression fracture, it is more common that their front part of the vertebral body collapses while their lower part of the vertebral body does not. That means the bones in the back becomes a wedge shape. That’s also the reason why people with the condition often have the appearance of a hunchback.

Generally speaking, people with calcium deficiency may have a higher risk of getting the disease.

Also, the condition is more often seen among women, especially women over the age of 60. Based on the data from the United States and Sweden, about 15% of patients with compression fractures are women while only 5% to 9% of patients are men. When women pass through their menopause, they may be more likely to have weakened bones. That is to say, they may develop osteoporosis. Osteoporosis refers to a disease where increased bone weakness increases the risk of a broken bone.

Overall, about 750,000 people are affected by the condition annually.


Causes

Although in rare cases, compression fractures can be caused by trauma, tumor and other infections, it is more often that the bones of the patients have already weakened. Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle. When people have osteoporosis, their bone tissues tend to become thinner and their bone density may become lower, in that case, compression fractures may occur. Also, osteoporosis is most frequently seen among elderly women.

Apart from the above reasons, congenital diseases and tumors may also lead to compression fractures as well.


Symptoms

For people with compression fractures, some of them may experience no symptoms at all while for others, signs and symptoms may appear all of a sudden or chronically.

These symptoms may include the following:

  • Pain in the back
  • Numbness or tingling in the limbs or other parts of the body
  • Difficulty walking and making movements
  • Loss of control over the bowels or bladder
  • Hump on the back
  • Loss of height up to 6 inches
  • Trouble bending or twisting the body
  • Constipation
  • Breathing problems
  • Pain in the hip


Diagnosis

When the individual goes to the hospital, the doctor usually will perform a physical examination at first to check the symptoms and see if the individual has developed a hump on the back. Then, in order to see whether the individual really has compression fracture or not, the doctor will use X-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and Computed tomography (CT) scans to better visualize the situation.

A nuclear bone scan may also be done to identify which bone is damaged as well.

Given that a number of patients may have compression fractures because of osteoporosis, bone density testing is often included in the examination too. Thus, the doctor can decide which treatment plan to take and prevent future fractures in an effective manner.


Treatment

In most conditions, non-surgical treatment is taken. To help the patients, the doctor usually suggests them to wear a brace, which can provide support to their back.

However, if the condition is sure to have been caused by osteoporosis, the following treatment may be recommended:

  • Take calcium and vitamin D supplements
  • Take pain relievers
  • Engage in weight-bearing exercises
  • Have a surgery if the spine is unstable

If the condition is associated with tumors, the doctor may need to perform an operation to remove parts of the patient’s bones and tissues.

All in all, according to different patient’s situations, the doctor tends to take different measures. In general, compression fracture requires 2 to 3 months to fully heal. It is necessary to take some bed rest to recover in a better manner.


Keywords: compression fracture.


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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.