Could My Back Pain Be Caused by a Spinal Compression Fracture?

A spinal compression fracture is a common injury that occurs when the bones of the spine, known as vertebrae, fracture and collapse. Of the 700,000 cases that occurred in the US, a majority of them occurred in the mid-part of the back named the thoracic spine.

There are 3 main types of fractures: crush fracture, burst fracture and wedge fracture. When the entire bone breaks, it is known as a crush fracture, and when there is a loss of bone mass in both the front and back part of the bone, it is called a burst fracture. A wedge fracture occurs when the front part of the bone collapses, creating the appearance of a wedge.

These fractures occur as a result of an underlying disease or from a sudden injury to the back. By knowing the risk factors and symptoms associated with a spinal compression fracture, and receiving proper treatment, the fracture can heal.

Who is at Risk?

Though anyone can get a spinal compression fracture, there are some who are more prone to it. These include:

•   Post-menopausal women over the age of 50

•   Those who have osteoporosis

•   Those who have cancer that have spread to the bone

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of a spinal compression fracture can differ depending on the cause. When the fracture is the result of an injury, a disabling, stabbing pain can be felt at the site. When the cause is due to illness, such as osteoporosis or cancer, symptoms may not be evident at first. After time, the following symptoms may be present:

•   Back pain that increases with walking, lifting or bending

•   Pain that eases when sitting or lying down

•   Thoracic kyphosis, also known as a hunchback

•   Loss of height

Less common symptoms include:

•   Tingling or numbness

•   Weakness

•   Loss of bladder or bowel control

•   Breathing problems

What are the Treatment Options?

Treatments include pain management, use of a back brace, decrease in activity and, as a last resort, surgery. To manage pain, over-the-counter medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or acetaminophen is used. If there is significant pain, prescribed pain relievers can be used, but only for a short duration to avoid dependency or addiction.

A snug fitting brace acts much like a cast and is used to stabilize the spine and minimize movement. Bed rest may also be needed for a short period of time to help reduce pain and encourage healing. There should also be a reduction in normal day activities, while strenuous activities and heavy lifting should be avoided. By doing this, the fracture will be fully healed in 8-to-10 weeks.

If treatment is not helping, surgery may be offered as a last resort. There are 3 different surgeries that can be performed:

•   Kyphoplasty

•   Vertebroplasty

•   Spinal fusion

Spinal compression factors are a common occurrence within the US. Those most at risk include postmenopausal women and those suffering from osteoporosis. By knowing the symptoms associated with compression fractures, proper treatment can be sought. Combining pain management, spinal support and a decrease in activity, fractures can be healed within 8-to-10 weeks.