Compression fractures are a type of vertebral fracture, typically occurring in the spine’s vertebrae. These fractures often occur in individuals with osteoporosis or those who have sustained a severe injury to the spine. These painful fractures can lead to significant changes in a person’s quality of life, affecting posture, physical capability, and overall health. This article will delve into the symptoms, causes, and treatments of compression fractures.
The symptoms of compression fractures can vary, ranging from severe to almost imperceptible, depending on the seriousness of the fracture. However, many individuals may experience pain in their back, which can worsen upon standing or walking. This discomfort can also radiate towards the sides of the body or the abdomen.
Other symptoms include loss of height, stooped posture (dowager’s hump), and limited spinal mobility. Furthermore, if the fracture compresses the spinal nerves, it can result in numbness, tingling, weakness, or difficulty in moving limbs. Some people may also have gastrointestinal symptoms related to the increased pressure on the stomach, such as a loss of appetite and constipation.
The main cause of compression fractures is osteoporosis, a condition where bones become fragile and brittle due to low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissues. This vulnerability makes the vertebrae susceptible to compress under the weight they are supposed to support. Although osteoporosis primarily affects older adults, specifically post-menopausal women, it can occur in younger individuals as well.
Other causes of compression fractures include traumatic injuries such as falls, forceful jumps, or vehicular accidents, which can apply a sudden, intense pressure on the spine. Additionally, diseases like bone cancer or long-term use of corticosteroids can also contribute to bone weakening and, therefore, compression fractures.
The goal of treatment for compression fractures is to alleviate pain, stabilize the spine, and restore mobility. Analgesics, rest, and heat or cold therapy can help manage the pain. A back brace can support the spine, promoting healing and helping maintain posture.
For individuals with osteoporosis-related fractures, treatments also include medication to slow bone loss and enhance bone strength. This could include calcium, vitamin-D supplements, or drugs called bisphosphonates.
If non-invasive treatment methods do not provide relief, doctors may recommend minimally invasive procedures such as vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty. In vertebroplasty, a special cement mixture is injected into the collapsed vertebral body. Kyphoplasty involves the insertion of a tiny balloon into the vertebra, which is then inflated to regain some or all of the lost vertebral body height and then filled with bone cement.
In severe cases, spinal fusion surgery may be necessary. This procedure involves joining two or more vertebrae together to eliminate the painful motion, often using grafts of bone alongside rods, screws, and metal plates for support.
Patients also benefit significantly from physical therapy to improve posture, promote mobility, increase muscle strength, and provide education on protecting the spine.
The early identification and treatment of compression fractures are paramount to reduce pain and disability. If you have persistent back pain or any symptoms mentioned earlier, consult a healthcare professional immediately. Remember, maintaining good bone health is the key to preventing such conditions. Regular exercise, a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, and avoiding harmful substances like tobacco and excessive alcohol can help safeguard the health of your bones and spine.