Injuries and Diseases
|What is a compression
fracture of the vertebrae?
A compression fracture is crumbling or collapse of small
sections of the bones of the spine that occurs without
any obvious cause, such as an injury. The bones of the
spine are called vertebrae. More of the crumbling happens
in the front of the bone than the back, causing the spine
to bend forward.
How does it occur?
Compression fractures in older adults are usually the
result of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes bones to lose
calcium and become more porous, thinner, and weaker. "Dowager's
hump," a curving of the spine most often seen in
older women, is caused by osteoporosis. About 20% of women
have a compression fracture of the spine by age 70.
Osteoporosis develops over a period of years. Factors
that increase the risk of developing osteoporosis include:
lack of regular, weight-bearing exercise
lack of sufficient calcium in your diet
being a woman past menopause who does not take hormone
having a family history of osteoporosis
getting very little sunlight and not getting enough vitamin
D from other sources
drinking a lot of alcohol
prolonged bed rest or immobility
some medicines, such as steroids.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms occur only about half the time. The most common
symptom is sudden, severe pain in the lower back or mid-back
that may feel like a muscle spasm. The pain may extend
throughout the back, hips, and legs. It can make moving
or trying to walk very difficult. Many people recall the
exact moment the pain started and what they were doing
at the time. Often, the fracture occurs during routine
chores such as making a bed, opening a door, or picking
something up from the floor.
You may have a compression fracture without knowing it.
It does not always produce severe pain or a change in
the way your body works. Over time, compression fractures
may cause you to become shorter by as much as several
How is it diagnosed?
Your health care provider will ask about your symptoms
and examine you. An x-ray is needed to confirm the diagnosis.
How is it treated?
Treatment for a compression fracture may consist of:
bed rest until your pain decreases, then increasing your
level of activity gradually,
to how much you feel you can do
wearing a corset or back brace to give the fractured area
taking medication for pain
vertebroplasty. This procedure is done in a hospital by
an orthopedic surgeon. Needle
are made in the spine and special cement is injected into
This process stiffens them and helps eliminate pain.
As your fracture heals, you will have less pain and will
be able to do more. You may find assistive devices such
as a cane or walker helpful in getting around. Avoid stretching
or stooping to prevent further injury. When you feel pain
in your back, stop what you are doing and apply either
heat or cold, whichever feels better.
How can compression fractures be
Osteoporosis often runs in the family. Having a healthy
lifestyle with a good diet that includes enough calcium
and vitamin D and regular, weight-bearing exercise can
help prevent or reduce the severity of osteoporosis. Speak
with your health care provider about other ways of reducing
your chances of developing it.
If you have osteoporosis, ask about treatment. For post-menopausal
women, the most effective treatment is estrogen (hormone
replacement therapy). In addition, there are some medications
that appear to slow bone loss and help reduce fractures.
Using your body wisely when doing everyday tasks may help
prevent compression fractures. For example:
Bend your legs rather than your back when you pick up
something from the floor.
Hold objects close to your body when lifting them.
When getting out of a chair, put your weight over your
feet and slide to the front of the
Then, using the arms of the chair, raise yourself to a