Symptoms and Treatment of Spinal Compression Fractures

Lower back pain is the primary cause of disability worldwide, according to a 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study. In fact, up to 50 percent of Americans report they experience back pain symptoms, leading to missed work, use of prescription pain medications and lower quality of life. Identify the potential causes of back pain to target treatments that alleviate distress:

What is a Compression Fracture?

The spinal column is the central structure that supports your body weight. Made of 33 bones called vertebrae, damage to the spinal column can be extremely painful. A compression fracture occurs when one or more of the vertebrae in the spine collapses. Many individuals have tiny, hairline fractures (or breaks) in the bone tissue in their spines. As these tiny fractures accumulate, the overall integrity of the bone tissue deteriorates. Eventually, this may cause a bone in the spine to collapse. Although this happens most often in the middle of the spinal column, the lower back may also be affected.

Symptoms of Compression Fractures

The primary symptom of a spinal compression fracture is sudden, severe back pain. Although pain may gradually worsen over time, many individuals experience a more sudden onset of pain. Compression fractures often cause back pain to become worse when walking or standing, while lying down relieves pressure and pain. In serious cases, the spine may become curved or create a “hunchback,” reducing your height. For most individuals with compression fractures, everyday activities become more difficult. Bending, lifting household objects or sudden movements often cause significant back pain.

Common Risk Factors for Compression Fractures

There are numerous risk factors for vertebral compression fractures. The most common cause, according to the National Institutes of Health, is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is characterized by bone tissue becoming weaker and more brittle. This condition is more common in women, older adults, individuals of Asian or Caucasian descent and those with small body frames. Compression fractures caused by osteoporosis may be especially common in post-menopausal women as well as those with poor diet and physical activity levels.

Other, less common, risk factors for compression fractures include trauma to the back. Falling, forcefully landing on your feet following a jump, automobile accidents or any other activity that puts pressure on your spine may cause a compression fracture. This type of bone damage may also be caused by tumors such as multiple myeloma.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Compression Fractures

Diagnosis of compression fractures requires a trip to your medical provider. A doctor will typically diagnose a spinal compression fracture by performing a physical exam and taking X-rays of the spine. Other possible tests may include a CT scan, MRI or nuclear bone scan to identify the age of the fracture.

Treatment for spinal compression fractures includes decreasing physical activity. Over time, the bone repairs itself and makes compression fractures less painful. Performing physical therapy is another helpful way to reduce back pain. According to the Laser Spine Institute, performing spine-strengthening exercises every day keeps your spine flexible and improves mobility. If a doctor determines that your back compression fracture is severe, exercise and lifestyle changes may not be enough. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the fracture and alleviate back pain.