Your spine is your backbone. It's made up of a lot of small bones stacked up like building blocks.
What is a compression fracture of the spine?
Something that's compressed is squashed down. If you compress something that's hard, it can crack. So a compression fracture of the spine is when one of the bones in your spine is squashed down and cracked.
Compression fractures of the spine usually happen in the middle or lower back
Usually they happen in older people, especially those with back bones weakened by osteoporosis Osteoporosis Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens your bones. Your bones become thinner and more fragile. This is called a loss of bone density. If you have osteoporosis, your bones break more easily... read more or cancer
When back bones are weakened, it doesn't take much force to cause a compression fracture
You may not remember hurting yourself
Usually your back hurts, but you may not have any pain
What causes compression fractures of the spine?
Falling, especially if you land on your feet, which puts pressure on your spine and may also cause a broken heel Broken Heel You can break your heel bone, which is located at the back of your foot. All broken bones are considered fractures. For more information, see Overview of Broken Bones. It takes a lot of force... read more
Less often, compression fractures are caused by serious injuries, such as car crashes or gunshots.
You're at higher risk if you have:
Cancer that's spread to your spine
If you're at high risk, you can get a compression fracture just from stumbling, twisting, or getting out of bed. You may not even know what caused the fracture.
What are the symptoms of a compression fracture?
If your compression fracture was caused by osteoporosis, you may have no pain or symptoms. Fractures caused by an injury usually hurt. If you do have symptoms, they may include:
A rounded back and trouble standing up straight
Back pain, especially when the back is tapped
How can doctors tell if I have a compression fracture?
Sometimes, CT scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more and MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer records changes in the magnetic field around your body. The computer then uses... read more
To check if you have osteoporosis, doctors may do a DXA scan Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) A doctor can often diagnose a musculoskeletal disorder based on the history and the results of a physical examination. Laboratory tests, imaging tests, or other diagnostic procedures are sometimes... read more , a quick, painless test to check your bone density.
How do doctors treat compression fractures of the spine?
Doctors treat compression fractures of the spine with:
Sometimes, a back brace
Sometimes, bed rest
Sometimes, injections of bone cement into your back to strengthen your spine or improve your posture
If you have osteoporosis, doctors will want to prevent more fractures, so they'll treat you with:
Medicine to keep your bone from getting weaker or less dense
Doctors may also suggest physical therapy.