A compression fracture occurs when a spinal bone (vertebrae) has deteriorated enough so that the front side starts to collapse. The vertebrae must lose at least 15% of its height in ordered to be classified as a compression fracture. Compression fractures happen most often in post-menopausal Caucasian and Asian women who are thin, and in men over the age of 60. Individuals with a calcium deficiency causing osteoporosis, who have cancer, or those who smoke are at high risk of developing the condition. Compression fractures can occur in any section of the spine, but most often happen in the lower thoracic and upper lumbar regions.
Compression fractures can result from trauma related to lifting, bending, or falling, and are often due to multiple “micro-injuries.” The condition, frequently missed, diagnosed instead as a soft-tissue injury or simply the effects of aging. The following are symptoms of a compression fracture:
• Sudden back pain worsened by standing or walking
• Unexplained loss of height
• Mobility limitations coupled with deformity
• Loss of muscle mass and aerobic conditioning due to lack of activity
• Numbness or tingling in limbs (rare)
• Incontinence (rare)
A physician will use a focused physical exam and symptom assessment, along with personal and family medical history to diagnose a compression fracture. If suspected, an MRI, CT, X-ray, and bone scan will be ordered and reviewed to confirm the findings.
Treatment for compression fracture starts with conservative steps of rest, pain medication, ice, and heat. Physical therapy will aid the individual in strengthening exercises and a slow return to functional activity. A back brace may be needed to give support during the first stages of recovery. For people with osteoporosis, calcium and Vitamin D supplements can improve bone density; women may benefit from hormone replacement therapy. If surgical intervention is needed, options are kyphoplasty, vertebroplasty, and spinal fusion.
If you are suffering from a compression fracture and would like to find out about the treatment options we offer, please call us at either our New Braunfels or Seguin offices.