Compression fractures are a common spinal injury that can cause severe back pain for several weeks or months. Usually caused by osteoporosis or trauma, compression fractures occur when one or more of the vertebra collapses.
Patients who suffer from osteoporosis are more susceptible to compression fractures because osteoporosis is essentially a thinning of the bone. This means that the bones become more porous and vulnerable to injury. As the bones thin, each vertebral bone is less able to support the load of the others, which is a prime condition for a vertebra to collapse.
Once one or more vertebrae collapse, a patient can begin to feel intense pain near the affected area. Some patients feel sudden severe pain, while others notice an increase in pain over time. Some do not notice pain from the compression fracture at first, but discover the issue when having an x-ray for separate issues.
Many patients note that the pain is more intense when they are walking or standing, but briefly subsides while resting or sitting. Most patients will begin to notice pain from this condition while carrying out everyday activities, such as lifting groceries or bending to pick something up. If the fracture is more severe or advanced, pain can persist for long periods of time if left untreated.
Compression fractures have the potential to cause further health issues and pain if they are not treated properly. For example, if the compression fracture is severe enough, or if multiple vertebrae collapse, versus just one, the condition can lead to a curvature of the spine known as “kyphotic deformity.” The pressure placed on one’s spine from this kind of stooped posture can lead to stomach problems, hip pain, numbness, difficulty walking and other ailments.
Another potential problem associated with compression fractures is loss of height. If enough vertebrae collapse, a patient can lose up to six inches of height over time.
If you are experiencing spinal pain, or any of these other symptoms, it is important to see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis. Your doctor will likely begin with a physical exam to see if there is any curve in your spine, as well as spinal x-rays. If the x-ray shows one or more compressed vertebra, your doctor can conclude that you have a compression fracture.
Bone density tests to determine if you have osteoporosis can also be helpful as it is such a common cause of compression fractures. If your compression fracture was caused by trauma, like a car accident, you may need to have a CT scan or MRI done to check for any further injury.
If you do have a compression fracture, your doctor will discuss treatment methods with you. Compression fractures are treatable, and each treatment plan depends on the severity of the fracture, pain, and duration of injury. As compression fractures are usually not harmful to the spinal cord itself, they can often be safely treated with medicine.
Pain medication and bed rest are usually successful in relieving most pain caused by compression fractures. Back braces are sometimes recommended for patients with compression fractures, but care must be taken in this method of treatment as braces can actually weaken the bones even further over time and cause risk of more fractures.
Physical therapy has also been proven to help alleviate pain and improve strength around the spine. Spinal decompression therapy is one treatment option to relieve pressure on compressed discs. By improving a patient’s movement and keeping their bones active, physical therapy helps protect the bones from future potential fractures.
Generally, patients will see a reduction in pain with a combination of these treatments. However, when intense or debilitating pain lasts longer than two months, or if a patient’s symptoms do not improve by implementing any of these treatments, surgery is usually recommended.
The two main surgical options for treating compression fractures are vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty, both of which are minimally invasive. Vertebroplasty is done by using imaging guidance to insert a hollow needle into the fractured bone. The surgeon will then inject a bone-cement mixture into the fractured vertebra. Once the cement hardens, it holds the once-fractured vertebra in place. This essentially returns the vertebra to its normal position and height.
Kyphoplasty is a somewhat more involved procedure than vertebroplasty in that the surgeon inserts a special balloon into the fractured vertebra. The surgeon gently inflates and then removes the balloon, filling the cavity with bone-cement. Like vertebroplasty, this helps return the vertebra to a more normal position.
After surgery has been successfully completed, patients usually notice their pain drastically reduced within hours or days. Though damage from osteoporosis compression fractures cannot be completely reversed, the pain involved with this condition is very manageable and treatable. The best way for patients to avoid more problems in the future is to take preventative steps. To help prevent future fractures, osteoporosis can be treated with pain medication, calcium supplements, and exercise to keep the bones moving and healthy.
The physicians at BASIC are well versed in treating compression fractures. Whether from trauma or an accident, we have the tools and knowledge to help get you pain free and back to your regular lifestyle.