Compression Fractures

Compression fractures are broken vertebrae. Vertebrae may be broken as a result of trauma or growth of a tumor, but osteoporosis is the most common cause. Unlike fractures in other parts of the body, compression fractures cause the vertebrae to lose height. The fracture may not be seen on an initial X-ray. The fracture can also progress over time. Compression fractures can lead to kyphosis, or development of a curvature, or hunchback. In someone with osteoporosis, a compression fracture occurs without trauma or fall.

Symptoms of Compression Fractures

  • Back pain
  • Loss of height
  • Kyphosis
  • Pressure on the nerves or spinal cord that may cause numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs

Compression fractures are most commonly found in elderly patients with osteoporosis. Treatment is geared toward preventing progression of the fracture, preventing injury to the nerves and spinal cord, fixing the fracture and controlling pain.

If you have compression fractures, you may require treatment for the underlying osteoporosis to prevent further fractures. Consult your primary physician or a rheumatologist.

To minimize the risk of compression fractures, take measures to prevent falls. These may include rearranging the house or work area, using a cane or walker, installing rails in the bathtub, etc.

If a tumor is suspected (pathologic fracture), then you need more extensive tests. Tumors on the spine are most likely associated with breast cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma or prostate cancer.

Treatment for Compression Fractures

  • Kyphoplasty: A procedure that consists of putting a “cement” through a probe into the fractured vertebrae to reestablish their height and reduce pain
  • Immobilization: Use of a back brace to allow the fracture to heal
  • Surgery: If the nerves or spinal cord are involved or if there is a problem with the structural integrity of the spine

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