Compression fracture

Back | Orthopaedics | Compression fracture (Disease)


Compression fracture is a condition that occurs when two bones are forced against each other. The bones of the spine, called vertebrae, are more likely to have this type of fracture. Elderly people, particularly those with osteoporosis, are at increased risk.

Causes and Risk factors

It may be due to trauma or due to a weakening of the vertebra. This weakening is seen in patients with osteoporosis or osteogenesis imperfecta, lytic lesions from metastatic or primary tumors, or infection. In healthy patients it is most often seen in individuals suffering extreme vertical shocks, such as ejecting from an ejection seat.

Compression fractures may occur suddenly, causing severe back pain that is most commonly felt in mid to lower part of the spine, but may also be felt on the sides or in the front. It is described as “knifelike” and usually disabling, often taking weeks to months to go away.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Seen in lateral views in plain X-ray films, compression fractures of the spine characteristically appear as wedge deformities, with greater loss of height anteriorly than posteriorly and intact pedicles in the anteroposterior view.

Compression fractures due to osteoporosis may cause no symptoms at first and may only be discovered when x-rays of the spine are done for other reasons. Over time, the following symptoms may occur:

(1) Back pain that starts slowly, which gets worse with walking but is not felt when resting

(2) Loss of height, as much as 6 inches over time

(3) Stooped over posture or kyphosis, also called a dowager’s hump

Treatment for a vertebral compression fracture can include bed rest, a back brace, and medication for pain. Most compression fractures are seen in older people with osteoporosis. These fractures generally do not cause injury to the spinal cord. The condition is usually treated with medicines and calcium supplements to prevent any further fractures. ...

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