6 Things to Know About Spinal Compression Fractures
Chris Iliades, MD
A spinal compression fracture is a crack in one of the bones
that make up your spine. These bones—called vertebrae—are like blocks. They
protect your spinal cord and support your body when you stand. When a vertebra
cracks, it collapses, compresses and shrinks. This causes pain and stiffness.
Over time, this type of fracture can change the shape of your back. These
fractures are common, especially in older women. Read on for the answers to
important questions about spinal fractures.
Get smart about spinal compression fractures. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1500x1003%2B0%2B0/resize/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2F18%2Fda%2F6c3841354e15a59f25432e85b0e1%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fgettyimages-521849567.jpg
The most common risk factor is osteoporosis, which is
thinning of your bones. Very thin vertebrae can fracture easily. This could happen
just by stepping off a curb or from a hard cough or sneeze. Less common causes
include injuries and tumors. Tumors that can cause these fractures usually
spread to the spine from somewhere else in the body. A car crash or a severe
fall could also cause healthy vertebrae to fracture. So could a hard hit while
playing a contact sport.
1. Osteoporosis is a risk factor for spinal fractures. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1500x1003%2B0%2B0/resize/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2F99%2F37%2Fe74fd08a44469939183b7029dd0e%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fgettyimages-168260221.jpg
The risk of osteoporosis—and resulting spinal fractures—increases
with age. Anyone can have this disease, but 80% of people with osteoporosis are
women. However, older men are also at risk. Bones get thinner as you age. About
one in four women will have a spinal compression fracture after menopause. And,
these fractures are most common after age 80, in both men and women. Other
things that can increase your risk for a spinal fracture include smoking and
not getting enough exercise.
2. Aging increases the risk of spinal fractures. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1500x1003%2B0%2B0/resize/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2Fe1%2Ff9%2F5321935348dba7d19f5aeaec9115%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fgettyimages-500217472.jpg
Your doctor may suspect a compression fracture from your
symptoms. A physical exam and some tests will confirm it. During the exam, your
doctor may check your posture and press on your spine. Imaging exams to create
pictures of your spine are also important. A plain X-ray can show the break. A
CT scan can show more details about the break. An MRI can tell your doctor if
the break is old or new. It also will show if it is affecting your spinal cord.
A bone scan—called a DEXA scan—can tell your doctor how thin your bones are.
3. Doctors use tests to diagnose a spinal fracture. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1500x1003%2B0%2B0/resize/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2Fe4%2Fb3%2F3fcbd3a74be6ac48cb0b64b4c36a%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fgettyimages-160690280.jpg
Most compression fractures heal in about three months. You
may need to rest in bed for a short time. Then your doctor may allow limited
activity. You might need to wear a rigid back brace while your spine heals. You
also may need physical therapy to reduce pain and prevent loss of strength and
movement. Your doctor probably will prescribe medicine to ease your pain and
relax your muscles. However, if these treatments don't help relieve your pain,
you may need surgery.
4. Most compression fractures will heal. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1500x1003%2B0%2B0/resize/580x388/qual