A compression fracture of the back refers to a broken vertebra in the spine due to a traumatic accident or secondary to osteoporosis. In accidents or injuries, a heavy load on the vertebrae results in the fracture of the vertebral body. Patients suffering from osteoporosis have weak bones which may result in a compression fracture while performing their normal routine activities even in the absence of an injury. Other causes of compression fractures include various types of cancer, tumors, or long-term treatment with certain medications.
Back pain is the predominant symptom in patients with compression fracture. Patients with osteoporosis, suffering from multiple compression fractures, may present with abnormal curvature of the spine known as kyphotic deformity or more commonly “hunchback”. This results from the compression of the front portion of the vertebrae while the back portion is normal. As the back portion of the vertebrae is not affected, there are usually no symptoms of spinal nerve compression.
Patient with compression fractures may also lose their overall height, because of a reduction in the length of the spinal column.
Early diagnosis of compression fractures helps to avoid development of any fresh fractures, spinal deformities, or functional abnormalities. A diagnosis of compression fracture comprises of the following steps:
- Medical and family history of the patient
- Physical and neurological examinations
- Testing of reflexes to evaluate muscle weakness, sensitivity, and other signs of neurological injury
- Other diagnostic techniques such as X-rays, CT scan, MRI scans or myelography may also be employed to confirm the diagnosis
Plain X-rays help in identification of a compression fracture, whereas CT and MRI scans are more precise techniques which help to visualize the bone, intervertebral disc and neuronal structures.
The causative factors for the development of compression fractures should be avoided. Usually treatment of compression fractures comprises of medications such as analgesics, activity modification and bracing. The treatment of osteoporosis includes regular exercise, calcium supplementation and medication.
In severe cases, vertebroplasty is recommended. In this procedure, the lost height of the vertebrae is restored by injecting bone cement into the vertebra, which stabilizes the fracture and prevents further collapse. About 8-10 weeks may be required for the complete healing of a compressed fracture.