A compression fracture occurs when the normal vertebral body of the spine is squished, or compressed, to a smaller height. This injury tends to happen in two groups of people. First, are patients who are involved in traumatic accidents. When a load placed on the vertebrae exceeds its stability, it may collapse. This is commonly seen after a fall. Second and much more common group of patients are those with osteoporosis.
Back pain is by far the most common problem in patients with a compression fracture. Patients with osteoporosis who sustain multiple compression fractures may begin to notice a curving of the spine, like a hunchback, called a kyphotic deformity. The reason for this is the vertebrae are compressed in front, and usually normal in back. This wedge shaped appearance causes the spine to curve forward. When enough compression occurs, this may become a noticeable curvature. Patients with compression fractures also often notice a loss of their overall height because of the decreased size of the spinal column.
The best treatment is prevention. Usually, treatment is aimed at alleviating the pain, and preventing injuries in the future. This is best accomplished by treating osteoporosis with exercise, calcium, and medications. If the pain is severe, and collapse is becoming problematic, a procedure called a vertebroplasty may be considered. In this procedure an interventional radiologist restores the height of the bone and injects cement into the vertebra to stabilize the fracture and prevent further collapse. Compression fractures tend to heal completely in about 8 to 12 weeks. Patients who have one compression fracture are much more likely to have more, and therefore prevention of future compression fractures must be addressed.