A compression fracture is a type of fracture, or broken bone that affects your vertebrae, the bones in your back. Compression fractures can cause these bones to collapse, making them shorter in height. Often, the front side of the vertebra loses height, but the rear side doesn't. As a result these fractures can cause your posture to stoop forward over time.
Osteoporosis and osteopenia, conditions that cause bones to break easily, are common causes of compression fractures. Other causes include injuries or tumors in the bone.
Compression fractures affect many women after menopause and become more and more common in women as they get older. They're also a major problem in older men.
When these fractures first start developing, they may not cause symptoms. A doctor may discover them on an X-ray that you had done for other reasons. Later symptoms may include:
Slowly worsening back pain—lying on your back may relieve the pain and standing may make it worse
A decrease in your height
A stooped-over posture
In some cases, numbness or tingling, weak muscles, problems walking, and possible trouble controlling your bowels or bladder
If the fracture happens rapidly, you may feel sudden, severe back pain.
Your doctor may start to make a diagnosis by doing a physical examination. He or she will check to see if your upper spine is hunched forward and may also want to make images of your vertebrae using X-rays or CT or MRI scans. These tests are especially important if a tumor or injury could be the cause of the fracture.
If your fractures are related to osteoporosis, your doctor may suggest that you treat this condition. You may need to take medicine and calcium and vitamin D supplements for osteoporosis.
Other types of treatment include:
Pain medicine to relieve your back pain
Resting in bed
Wearing a back brace
Physical therapy to help you move better and strengthen the area around your spine
Different types of surgery are available and may be needed if other treatments aren't reducing your back pain. For instance, a surgeon can inject special cement into your bone through a needle. The surgeon may first inflate a small balloon through the needle to help make the vertebra taller, and then fill in the empty space with cement.
If a tumor is causing your symptoms, you may need surgery to remove some of the bone and treat the tumor. If an injury has caused the fracture, you may need surgery to repair the bone and join vertebrae together, a procedure called fusion.
Preventing osteoporosis, or treating it if you have it, can help prevent future fractures. Steps to address osteoporosis include exercise, vitamin D and calcium, stopping smoking, and taking bone-strengthening medicine. In addition, avoiding smoking can help reduce your risk for lung cancer, which can spread to your back.
Your doctor can suggest ways for you to relieve pain from these fractures, such as resting and taking pain medicines.