Compression fractures occur when a bone in the spine collapses, which can lead to severe pain, decreased height, and a hunched-forward posture. This type of fractures specifically impacts the vertebral bones of the spine, which support the body’s weight. Although they may seem benign, left untreated, these fractures can lead to serious complications that inhibit daily life and overall well-being.
Causes of Compression Fractures
The most common cause of compression fractures is osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones making them porous and susceptible to breakage. Younger individuals can also develop compression fractures due to trauma or injury from severe accidents or high-intensity sports. In rare cases, compression fractures can result from infections or tumors, which weaken the vertebrae over time.
Symptoms of Compression Fractures
Compression fractures may initially present as generalised back pain, which may be interpreted as muscle strain or discomfort. Over time, the pain intensifies and becomes chronic, and it may worsen with walking or standing. Other symptoms include loss of height, limited spinal mobility, and deformity— often the development of a hump-like appearance on the back. In severe cases, compression fractures cause more serious complications, such as nerve damage and disability.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Compression Fractures
In diagnosing a compression fracture, doctors typically perform a physical examination first, asking patients about their medical history, symptoms, and physical struggles. If suspected, the doctor will use imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs to confirm the presence of a fracture.
Treatment varies depending on the severity and cause of the compression fracture. Most compression fractures are managed with a conservative approach— analgesics, bed rest, physical therapy, and braces to support the back. However, these treatment options only manage the symptoms and do not correct the actual compression fracture.
In cases of severe pain or disability, two minimally invasive surgical procedures may be considered: vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. Vertebroplasty involves injecting bone cement into the fractured vertebrae to stabilize the bone. Kyphoplasty is similar but involves inflating a balloon-like device in the vertebra before injecting the cement to restore some height in the compressed bone.
Future Prevention of Compression Fractures
Patients who had a compression fracture are at a higher risk of subsequent fractures. By consuming a diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D, practicing weight-bearing exercises, maintaining a healthy weight and refraining from smoking and excessive alcohol, patients can improve bone health, thus avoiding future compression fractures. It’s also crucial for those with osteoporosis to manage their condition through prescribed medication.
Although compression fractures can lead to long-term complications, prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment can often lead to improvement in pain and quality of life. It is critical to communicate to your doctor if you are experiencing persistent back pain. Early intervention can prevent further damage and maintain the vitality of your spinal health.