Spinal compression fractures are an often overlooked, but common cause of back pain. These small fractures in the bones that form your spine are frequently caused by osteoporosis. Fortunately, spinal compression fractures can be treated with pain medicine and bed rest. Some patients may wear a back brace or undergo physical therapy. In patients with severe and disabling pain, surgery may be recommended.
Spinal compression fractures, also called vertebral compression fractures, are most common in older women whose bones have become brittle from osteoporosis. A person with compression fractures may develop the stooped posture known as dowager's hump or kyphosis. This occurs when the small bones of the spine, known as vertebrae, weaken from osteoporosis, causing them to become narrow and shrink.
Once a vertebra is weakened, it can fracture when too much pressure is placed on it. Sometimes a person fractures the vertebrae as a result of a fall. A person with osteoporosis can suffer a compression fracture doing something as simple as reaching, coughing, sneezing or twisting.
The majority of spinal compression fractures are not diagnosed because many people with back pain assume it is a normal part of aging. If a person with untreated osteoporosis begins to take medication for the condition, it will help prevent future spinal fractures.
Pain from compression fractures most commonly occurs in the mid to lower part of the spine. It may also be felt on the sides or front of the spine. The pain can start slowly and get worse with walking. It is generally not felt when a person is at rest.
If your doctor thinks you might have a spinal compression fracture, you will undergo a spinal X-ray. Other possible tests are an MRI, a CT scan or a bone scan. Your bone density may also be tested to assess whether you have osteoporosis, and how severe it is.
The good news is that most compression fractures caused by injury heal in eight to ten weeks with rest and pain medicines. Your doctor may recommend wearing a brace to restrict your movement and allow the fractures to heal. If you are found to have osteoporosis, your doctor will discuss treatment options.