Compression fractures of the spine result from weakening of the bony structure of the vertebral body through conditions like osteoporosis, and are often the result of excessive pressure or another injury.
A compression fracture usually refers to collapse of the anterior portion of the vertebral body, and most commonly occurs in the lower part of the thoracic spine or the first lumbar spine. (T11, T12, and L1).
How Do Compression Fractures Occur?
Osteoporosis is the most common risk factor for compression fractures of the spine. Osteoporosis weakens the bones, and this may result in their inability to bear normal weight. Statistics reveal that 40% of women will suffer from a spinal compression fracture by the age of 80.
Metastatic tumors are another cause of compression fractures. Any process that weakens the bone structure can cause it to collapse through even simple processes such as bending forward.
Many older women lose height as a result of compression fractures, resulting in a slumped posture and inability to straighten the spine.
Possible Treatments for Compression Fractures:
The fractures often heal without treatment, but if a sudden injury causes the fracture, you may experience significant pain and potentially have neurologic problems, including pain referred to your lower extremities, numbness, or weakness as a result of some impingement on a spinal nerve.
The pain of compression fractures varies, and is related to the rapidity of onset or the condition that caused the fracture. Treatment is usually analgesics, decreased activity, and often, a back support to restrict movement, keeping the spine in hyperextension to take pressure off the fractured portion of the vertebra.
Diagnosis is made by imaging and may require a bone scan. If imaging reveals a pattern of old fractures, treatment for osteoporosis may be initiated, including hormone replacement therapy in women, vitamin D, calcium supplements and physical therapy.
With conservative measures, compression fractures of less than 50% of the vertebral body usually heal in three to four months.
If your fracture is large or unstable, your physician may recommend surgery to avoid nerve damage or other progressive problems.
If you are experiencing back pain, whether from an injury or from a chronic and gradually progressing condition, you should consult with one of our pain specialists for an evaluation and treatment.