Compression Fractures Of The Back

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Brought on by force, a compression fracture is a break in avertebra that causes it to collapse. The vertebrae are the box-shaped bonesthat make up the spine. Typically, a compression fracture is wedge-shaped,with more collapse in the front, due to force on the spine from forward bending.

What is going on in the body?

The spinal column of vertebrae, stacked one on top of another,supports the body in an upright position. When the force on the bone isgreater than the strength of the bone, a compression fracture occurs.Fractures can also occur when the bones have been weakened. Forexample, in osteoporosis,fractures can occur spontaneously with no known injury. Compressionfractures occur most often in the lower back or lumbar area. They alsooccur in the chest or thoracic area of the spine.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Most often, an injury is the cause. Inyoung, healthy bone, a violent force such as a car accident or fall froma height is necessary to break the bone. In weak, thin bone, minor forcesuch as sitting down hard or vigorous sneezing can cause the compression.Bone can be weak for various reasons, the most common beingosteoporosis.Cancercan also weaken a vertebra.

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

Mild, moderate, or severe back pain, particularly in the uprightposition, is the main complaint. Lying down may relieve some of the discomfort.In most cases, the discomfort lessens a great deal within 6 to 8 weeks.

If several vertebrae are compressed, a rounded or hunched backmay be noticed. Rarely, the compression fracture may be severe enough tocause pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. If this occurs, it could result innumbness, weakness, or paralysis of the legs, bladder, or bowels.

Other signs include tenderness over the compressed vertebra andspasm of the muscles around it. Standing with an erect posture may be hard.

Diagnosis & Tests

How is the condition diagnosed?

Compression fractures of the back are suspected based onthe medical history, symptoms, and signs. The diagnosis is confirmed byspine X-rays,particularly from the side view. Rarely, special X-ray tests such as abone scan,MRI,or CT scanare used to make the diagnosis. The MRI and CT scan can show greaterdetail in more severe injuries that press on the spinal cord.

Prevention & Expectations

What can be done to prevent the condition?

Fractures can be avoided by keeping bones healthythrough a healthy diet, which includes calciumand vitamin Dintake. Weight-bearing exercise also helps stimulate bone growth and strength.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

The majority of compression fractures will heal without long-termproblems. The greater the collapse, however, the greater the chance of futureback pain. It’s possible for the collapse to worsen and cause nerve problemsor require surgery.

What are the risks to others?

There are no risks to others.

Treatment & Monitoring

What are the treatments for the condition?

Often rest, reduced activity, and pain medicine are enoughto relieve the discomfort. Temporary use of a back support, such as abrace, corset, or girdle, may also help. For more serious compressionfractures, a larger brace or body cast may be needed. This will helpprotect the spine during the healing phase and prevent future collapse.For the most severe injuries, especially those resulting in nerve problems,surgery to correct the collapse and fuse the spine may be considered.As the fracture heals, it is important to exercise the muscles that help strengthenand straighten the back. Physical therapy may be used to teachthe person the right ways to use the body for lifting and other activities.

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Surgery might result in nerve injury, failure to correct thedeformity, infection, or failure of the bone fusion to heal.

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Pain is often relieved following rest, reduced activity, painmedicine, and physical therapy.

How is the condition monitored?

Comfort level and posture should be monitored by the doctor. Anynew or worsening symptoms should also be reported to the doctor.

Article type: xmedgeneral