A compression fracture is medical term used to describe a break or a collapse that occurs in the bones of your back called your vertebrae. While people are often born with 33 vertebrae, the average adult has 24 because some fuse together during the maturation process. While compression fractures can occur in any of your vertebrae, they are more common in the bottom area of your thoracic spine (located in the middle of your back), specifically the T11 and T12, and the top of your lumbar spine (L1).
According to data from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and the National Institute of Health (NIH), upwards of 1.5 million vertebral compression fractures happen annually in the United States. This same research data suggests that one in four postmenopausal women experience a compression fracture at some point in their life.
What Causes Compression Fractures?
Compression fractures can be caused by a variety of factors. People with severe osteoporosis who are suffering from weakened, more brittle bones, can experience a compression fracture simply by doing typical daily activities like lifting, carrying, pushing or even during a forceful sneeze. Smoking, having a calcium or vitamin D deficiency, having an extremely low or extremely high BMI, or a history of broken bones, may all presumably increase the compression fracture risk.
Accidents and injuries that cause severe trauma (like car accidents or sports injuries) can also cause compression fractures. Certain sport activities tend to be associated with a higher risk of compression fracture, specifically those where high impact falling is not uncommon including: equestrian/horseback riding, cycling/mountain biking, downhill skiing/snowboarding, gymnastics and skydiving. Powerlifting and bodybuilding can also put a person at added risk.
Sometimes compression fractures can be a sign of a serious underlying condition like cancer. When tumors spread to the spine they often weaken and degrade the vertebra to the point of collapse.
Is it a Compression Fracture? 6 Common Symptoms
While people may experience different symptoms from a compression fracture, depending in part on the cause of the injury, most people do experience some degree of pain and discomfort. If you or someone you love is experiencing back pain, follow along for additional information about common signs it could be a compression fracture.
1. Back pain that comes on very quickly (if your bone suddenly collapses)
2. Back pain that worsens over time
3. A notable spike in discomfort when you walk or stand upright
4. A reduction in discomfort when you are laying down on your back
5. A decrease in your normal spinal range of motion
6. Longer term side effects include a reduction in height and physical deformity
Diagnosing and Treating Compression Fractures
If you are suffering from some type of back injury or pain, it is advisable that you seek out a qualified medical professional. If you are in the Louisville, Kentucky-area, contact board certified spine surgeon Dr. Venu Vemuri at miiSpine for a more complete evaluation. For additional information or to schedule an appointment, please contact the miiSpine Louisville office at: 502-242-6370.
A thorough examination for a possible compression fracture may include a physical exam along with various types of scans including X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) tests.
Treatments for compression fractures depend in part on the cause and severity of the injury. Most compression fractures heal up on their own in a 3 to 6 month period, and can be addressed with more conservative treatments. These may involve rest, pain medications, modified activities, back braces, and medicines to reduce bone loss.
Sometimes minimally invasive procedures like kyphoplasty or posterior fusion are advisable. These typically outpatient procedures involve techniques designed to stabilize and strengthen compromised vertebra. The need for more invasive surgery is much less common given the latest advancements in compression fracture treatment options.