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Compression Fractures

A compression fracture is a type of fracture, or broken bone that affects your vertebrae, the bones in your back. Compression fractures can cause these bones to collapse, making them shorter in height. Often, the front side of the vertebra loses height, but the rear side doesn't. As a result these fractures can cause your posture to stoop forward over time.

Facts about disease

Osteoporosis is a condition in which your bones become less dense and you lose bone. This condition causes bones to break easily, and is a common cause of compression fractures. Other causes include injuries or tumors in the bone.

Compression fractures affect many women after menopause and become more and more common in women as they get older. They're also a major problem in older men.

Symptoms

When these fractures first start developing, they may not cause symptoms. A doctor may discover them on an X-ray that you had done for other reasons. Later symptoms may include:

  • Slowly worsening back pain — lying on your back may relieve the pain and standing may make it worse

  • A decrease in your height

  • A stooped-over posture

  • In some cases, numbness or tingling, weak muscles, problems walking, and possible trouble controlling your bowels or bladder because of nerve damage

If the fracture happens rapidly, you may feel sudden, severe back pain.

Diagnosis

Your doctor may start to make a diagnosis by doing a physical examination. He or she will check to see if your upper spine is hunched forward and may also want to make images of your vertebrae using X-rays or CT or MRI scans. If your doctor specifically suspects osteoporosis, he or she may also order a special type of X-ray called a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry or bone density scan. These tests are especially important if a tumor or injury could be the cause of the fracture.

Treatment

If your fractures are related to osteoporosis, your doctor may suggest that you treat this condition. You may need to take medicine and calcium and vitamin D supplements for osteoporosis.

Other types of treatment include:

  • Pain medicine to relieve your back pain

  • Resting in bed as your doctor tells you 

  • Wearing a back brace

  • Physical therapy to help you move better and strengthen the area around your spine

Different types of surgery are available and may be needed if other treatments aren't reducing your back pain. For instance, a surgeon can inject special cement into your bone through a needle, a procedure called a vertebroplasty. The surgeon may first inflate a small balloon through the needle to help make the vertebra taller, and then fill in the empty space with cement, this procedure is called a kyphoplasty.

If a tumor is causing your symptoms, you may need surgery to remove some of the bone and treat the tumor. If an injury has caused the fracture, you may need surgery to repair the bone and join vertebrae together, a procedure called fusion.

Prevention

Preventing osteoporosis, or treating it if you have it, can help prevent future fractures. Steps to address osteoporosis include regular exercise, vitamin D and calcium, stopping smoking, and taking bone-strengthening medicine, such as bisphosphonates. In addition, avoiding smoking can help reduce your risk for bone loss and many types of cancer, which can spread to your bones.

Last Reviewed Date: 02/23/2014
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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