Compression Fractures

Compression fractures are fractures of the vertebral body, the front of the spine. They typically occur in the low thoracic or lumbar spine.

Osteoporosis, or weak bone, is the most common cause of a compression fracture. Many patients with osteoporosis get compression fractures without any trauma. Falls and motor vehicle accidents can also cause compression fractures.

Back pain, occasionally radiating to the sides, is the main symptom. Pain down the legs from compression of nerves due to the fracture is quite rare. Larger fractures, such as burst fractures, more commonly produce leg symptoms.

The majority of compression fractures will heal well with time and observation. Supportive care including pain medications and activity modification (limited bending, lifting, and twisting) are the mainstays of treating compression fractures. Bracing is an option in fractures that are significantly compressed but is not always well tolerated by patients. Kyphoplasty is a cement stabilization procedure used to treat compression fractures that fail to heal with time or bracing or are particularly painful and limit activities.

It is important to identify if osteoporosis is present. This is done by obtaining a bone density test. Patients who have osteoporosis should ask their primary care provider if bone-strengthening medicines are recommended. Most patients with compression fractures should also take at least 1000mg of calcium daily and 1000 units of Vitamin D daily. Dr. Button recommends checking a Vitamin D level because very low levels can be treated with a prescription strength of Vitamin D. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or lifting light weights, can help strengthen bones and minimize the chance of future fractures.

Learn more about Orthopedics at The Oregon Clinic