Typically caused by osteoporosis, a compression fracture of the spine occurs when a vertebra collapses due to weakening or trauma. Compression fractures can occur at any point in the spine, but are more typically seen in the lower section of the upper back, otherwise known as the thoracic spine. In short, a compression fracture is the breaking of a vertebra.
Although osteoporosis, the thinning of bone through loss of calcium and other minerals, is the most common cause of compression fractures, trauma and tumors are two other known causes. This bone-thinning condition causes vertebral compression fractures in approximately 25% of all postmenopausal women in the United States.
Types of Compression Fractures
You may hear medical professionals refer to a compression fracture as a wedge fracture or a burst fracture. This is because there are two types of compression fractures, which we will look at below.
- Wedge fracture is so named because they most often occur at the front of the vertebra, which collapses the bone on one side, leaving the vertebra a wedge shape, with the back unchanged. These are the most common type of fracture.
- Burst fracture is a similar premise to wedge fractures, but instead of collapsing on one side only, these fractures lose height from both the front and the back. This kind of fracture can be unstable and must be treated promptly.
Symptoms of a Compression Fracture
Of course, as we get older, we expect a few things from our bodies, and unfortunately these aren’t all good! Old age is thought to be synonymous with an increased difficulty in walking, loss of control of the bladder, and even getting shorter. These three are actually symptoms of a compression fracture, and so it is important you get yourself checked out if you experience anything that worries you - regardless of your age!
These kinds of fractures can happen suddenly, and often cause a severe stabbing sensation and pain the back, which is most commonly felt in the middle or lower spine. If osteoporosis has caused a fracture of this nature, there may be no symptoms to recognize initially. Over time, however, you may notice a loss in height, increasingly curved posture or back pain that seems to dissipate when sitting.
It is the pressure from a hunched over position which can sometimes even cause numbness, tingling or difficulty walking.
How can you find relief from a compression fracture?
Although often found in older people, these compression fractures don’t usually cause injury to the spinal cord itself. Pain can be treated through a combination of resting and medication, but these are not the only options. Depending on how bad the fracture is deemed by your doctor, you may benefit from physical therapy or perhaps even surgery if the pain is severe enough.
Although the diagnosis of a compression fracture of the spine can sound a little scary and overwhelming, it is more common that you would think, and although it isn’t strictly ‘treated,’ there are many forms of pain relief. Unlike many other spinal injuries, a compression fracture is highly unlikely to cause paralysis, and can be relatively pain-free if treated properly.
Written by Bianca ChaddaBy day Bianca Chadda works as a healthcare assistant for a mental health clinic but she also has a passion for writing. With a BA in Human Geography, and experience of both print and online editorial, she has extensive knowledge of academic research for editorial purposes that she enjoys applying to the healthcare industry.
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