A compression fracture is a type of fracture, or break, that occurs in the vertebrae of your spine. The vertebrae are the bones in your back that are stacked on top of each other to make your spine. Your spine supports your weight, allows you to move, and protects your spinal cord and the nerves.
Compression fractures can cause the vertebrae to collapse, which can make them shorter in height. This collapse may even cause pieces of bone to press on the spinal cord and nerves, causing pain and possible nerve damage to the spinal cord.
Osteoporosis is the most common cause of compression fractures. It is a type of bone loss associated with aging that causes bones to break easily.
Other causes include injuries to the spine (such as from car accidents and sports injuries) and tumors in the spine. The tumor may start in the vertebrae, but more commonly it spreads there from another part of the body to the bone.
When compression fracture first occurs, it may not cause any symptoms at all. Your doctor may discover it on an X-ray that you had done for other reasons. Other symptoms may include:
The process starts with talking with you about your medical history and recent injuries and a physical exam. Imaging studies, such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, may be required to further investigate the cause.
Complications of compression fractures include:
If your compression fracture is related to osteoporosis, your healthcare provider will want to treat the osteoporosis. You may need to take bone-strengthening medicine and calcium and vitamin D supplements. Physical therapy and exercises may be recommended, to help strengthen your bones and in the hope of preventing future fractures.
Advanced interventional procedures are also available and may be indicated if other treatments aren't helping:
If an injury has caused the fracture, you may need surgery, called a fusion, to repair the bone and join vertebrae together. If a tumor is causing your symptoms, you may need radiation therapy as well as surgery to remove some of the bone and treat the tumor.