A compression fracture of the spine may cause no symptoms, but in some cases can result in back pain and a stooped over posture. In a compression fracture of the spine, one or more spinal bones (vertebrae) collapse. This article takes a look at the reason why these types of fractures happen and delves deeper into the possible medical symptoms and treatments.
Compression Fracture Of Spine Symptoms And Causes
Chronic onset: Symptoms will not always be noticed in a person who develops a compression fracture and the evidence of the condition may first be discovered through an x-ray done for other reasons. In some cases symptoms will develop gradually over time and may include:
- A gradual onset of back pain
- Loss of height (up to 6 inches over time)
- Stooped over posture, referred to as “Dowager’s Hump”
Acute onset: In some cases, symptoms will develop suddenly and cause sudden and severe back pain that remains in one local area. The onset of sudden back pain due to a compression fracture will typically be felt in the mid to lower part of the spine. This pain is described as “knife-like” and can be disabling and take months of recovery before pain alleviates.
There are may possible causes of compression fractures including:
- Weakening of the bones due to osteoporosis (most common cause)
- Weakening of the bones due to a pathology such as a cancerous tumor.
- Trauma to the spine such as a car accident or fall
Fractures that occur as a result of osteoporosis typically affect the vertebrae of the mid and lower spine. These types of fracture may produce no symptoms at first, especially at times of rest, but back pain may be aggravated by walking. Multiple spinal fractures may lead to a stooped posture called a kyphosis. This is seen as a hump-like curvature of the spine, like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Compression Fracture Of Spine Diagnosis And Treatment
A physical exam and spinal x-ray may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis of compression fractures of the spine. Other tests that may be performed include a bone density test to detect the presence of osteoporosis; a CT scan, MRI scan, or bone scan if there are concerns about the presence of a tumor or damage due to high-impact trauma to the spine (i.e. car accident or a fall from a height).
Treatment will depend on the cause of the compression fracture:
In patients with osteoporosis, the osteoporosis is treated with prescription medications and pain is controlled with pain medications and bed rest. Patients may benefit from physical therapy to develop the muscle strength needed to better support the spine. Surgery is a rare option, but for back pain cannot be controlled with conservative measures, surgery may be considered (i.e. balloon kyphoplasty, vertebroplasty). Fractures due to osteoporosis tend to become less painful with rest and pain medication, but some can result in chronic pain and disability.
If the fracture is caused by a tumor, treatment will be focused on treating the cancer. The prognosis will depend on the type of tumor involved.
If the fracture is cause by trauma, rest, pain medication, and bracing to support and immobilize the area is often required for 6 – 10 weeks. If bone fragments are in the spinal canal, surgery may be necessary to remove the fragments. Spinal fusion to fuse the vertebrae together and stabilize the spine may also be required. Compression fractures due to trauma will typically heal in 8 – 10 weeks with proper care. Recovery time will increase if surgery was involved.