What is a Compression Fracture?
A compression fracture is a type of fracture or break in your vertebrae. 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 that go from it to the rest of your body.
Compression fractures can cause the vertebrae to collapse, making them shorter in height. This collapse can also cause pieces of bone to press on the spinal cord and nerves, decreasing the amount of blood and oxygen that gets to the spinal cord.
What causes a Compression Fracture?
Osteoporosis is the most common cause of compression fractures. Osteoporosis is a type of bone loss 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.
Preventing and treating osteoporosis is the best way to decrease your risk for compression fractures. Most compression fractures linked to osteoporosis are found in women, especially after menopause. But older men develop osteoporosis and compression fractures, too. People who have had one compression fracture related to osteoporosis are at a higher than average risk for having another one.
Compression Fracture Treatments
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, too. These things help make your bones stronger and can help prevent other fractures.
Other types of treatment include:
- Pain medicine to relieve your back pain
- Bed rest for a short time, followed by limited activity while your bones heal
- Wearing a back brace
- Physical therapy to help you move better and strengthen the muscles around your spine
Different types of surgery are available and may be needed if other treatments aren’t helping:
- Vertebroplasty. Using an X-ray for guidance, your surgeon uses a small needle to inject special quick-setting cement into your fractured vertebra. The cement provides support for the broken vertebra, strengthens the area, and usually results in pain relief.
- Kyphoplasty. This surgery is a lot like vertebroplasty. But before the cement is injected, small balloons are used to expand the fractured space to help make the vertebra taller. The balloons are removed, and then the empty space is filled with cement.
If a cancerous tumor is causing your symptoms, you may need radiation therapy as well as 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. This is a procedure called fusion.