A compression fracture of the spine is a break in one of the vertebrae bones due to a compression force. These occur most frequently in the lower back due to the additional weight of the vertebrae above.
Symptoms compression fracture
Spinal compression fracture symptoms include pain at the site of the fracture which may radiate into the hips, buttocks or thighs. Neural symptoms such as numbness, tingling and weakness may be present along with bladder or bowel symptoms depending on how the fracture is pressing onto the spinal cord.
Causes of spinal compression fractures
Compression fractures, as the name suggests, occur due to a compression force on the spine. This may happen during a traumatic injury such as a fall from a height, landing on the feet or buttocks. More frequently, vertebral compression fractures in older people with osteoporosis or other pre-existing spinal conditions where the bone is weak. There may not be one particular incident that causes it and pain may develop gradually.
Due to the weakening of the bone, the vertebra is squashed under the weight of those above it. As the bone thins it can't carry as much load and so fractures occur more easily. In patients with multiple compression fractures, they may start to develop a bent over appearance. This is because the vertebrae carry their weight through the bodies at the front and so become compressed at the front and remain the same at the back. Imagine a wedge shape!
Nerve involvement is common in both degenerative and traumatic compression fractures due to the close proximity of the spinal cord and nerve roots.
Treatment of a spinal compression fracture
Traumatic compression fractures:
If you have back pain after a fall, seek medical attention. After an examination, a Doctor may request an X-ray or a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis. Traumatic compression fractures usually require surgery to pin the vertebrae back together and avoid slippage or spinal cord injury.
Degenerative compression fractures:
Rest from aggravating activities. Relieve the pain symptoms as best you can. A doctor may prescribe pain killing medication. A back support may help take some of the load off the vertebra.
Try to treat the osteoporosis with weight bearing exercise and increasing calcium intake. If vertebral collapse is a possibility then surgery may be necessary. A procedure called a vertebroplasty may be performed. This involves injected a cement like material into the vertebra to stabilise the fracture and restore the height of the bone.