Compression fracture is a condition which involves broken vertebra or vertebrae, which may collapse. As the affected vertebrae collapse and get compressed, the height of the spinal column reduces. A common cause for this type of fracture is serious traumatic accident, like falling from an extreme height.
It can also occur in people with weakened vertebrae, most commonly caused by osteoporosis, which is usually seen in elderly women. Tumor and cancer can also lead to compression fractures of the spine. Even though such fractures may occur at any part of the spinal column, it has been observed that, the commonly affected regions are the lower thoracic and upper lumbar region. Compression fractures of the lumbar spine are most common.
The most common symptom of a compression fracture is the sudden onset of chronic back pain, especially in the lower back. This pain may also radiate to the upper back and the neck. In some cases, the affected person may experience pain in the hips, thighs, and abdomen. The affected area may become swollen and tender. In most cases, these fractures do not affect the nerves. If the nerves are compressed, the person may feel numbness and tingling sensation, along with weakness.
If the spinal cord is getting pushed, the patient may develop fecal and urinary incontinence. Another symptom is curvature of the spine. This is mostly visible in people with multiple compression fractures, which is common in people with osteoporosis. This noticeable curvature of the spine, which causes a hunchback, is called kyphosis.
As the size of the spinal column decreases, the overall height of the person also suffers. He may look shorter than normal. A spine X-ray can show the compressed vertebra or vertebrae. If the fracture is caused by serious trauma or a tumor, then a CT scan or MRI is recommended, to evaluate the condition of the patient. In case of osteoporosis, a bone density test may also be suggested.
Treatment for compression fractures depends on the cause. If osteoporosis is the cause, prescription medicines, calcium supplements, and pain killers are used for treatment, because spinal cord injury is rare in such cases. Some doctors recommend use of back braces. However, it has been observed that, back braces worsen the condition in some users.
In case of a serious accident or trauma, which results in this type of fracture, surgery may be required, in extreme cases. If the condition affects the spinal cord or nerves, then surgery is almost unavoidable. If there is any bone particle in the spinal canal, surgery is performed to remove that. There are two types of minimally invasive procedures designed to treat compression fractures - kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty.
Kyphoplasty: In this procedure, a half-inch incision is made in the region, through which a large needle is inserted into the center of the broken or damaged vertebra. Then a balloon is inserted into the region of vertebral collapse. This balloon is inflated, so that the fragments of the fractured bone are brought back to their original position. If the shape and height of the vertebra is restored with the inflated balloon, it is deflated and the vacuum formed is filled with methyl methacrylate (bone cement). This cement hardens within a few minutes, and the bone structure is restored to normal, by stabilizing the fracture fragments.
Vertebroplasty: This procedure is also similar to kyphoplasty. Vertebroplasty is also a minimally invasive procedure, wherein local anesthesia is given to the patient. Acrylic cement is injected into the collapsed vertebra, using a biopsy needle, under X-ray guidance. This cement dries immediately after the injection, and stabilizes the bone structure.
Physical therapy and acupuncture are also found to be effective in controlling the pain caused by compression fractures of the spine. This is more applicable for people with osteoporosis, which can be treated, to avoid complications, like compression fractures.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.