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A compression fracture of the back occurs when the bones of your spine (vertebrae) collapse. This can lead to poor posture, pain, loss of height, and a variety of other symptoms.
Compression fractures caused by back injuries can be very painful. It may feel as though someone is stabbing a knife into your back. Fractures caused by osteoporosis may cause you more pain when you are standing than when you are lying down. These fractures may also cause you to stoop over, develop a hump on your back (kyphosis), and lose up to 6 inches in height as your vertebrae compress.
The following symptoms are rare, but they are caused by pressure on your spinal chord due to poor posture:
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes thinning of the bone tissue and loss of bone density. It’s the most common cause of compression fractures of the back. It usually affects older adults.
Other possible causes of compression fractures of the back include:
The following people are at a high risk for a compression fracture of the back:
Your doctor will first examine you to see if your spine is curved or if you have developed a hump on your back. The doctor will then use a CT scan, an MRI, an X-ray, or a bone density test to check for osteoporosis. These same studies help diagnose compression fractures except bone density testing.
Tumors that may be responsible for a compression fracture can show up in diagnostic imaging tests, as can traumatic injuries to your back.
If the underlying cause of your compression fracture is osteoporosis, your doctor may recommend:
If a tumor has caused your compression fracture, more invasive treatments may be used, including:
If your fractures are caused by a back injury, your surgeon may need to fuse some of your vertebrae together to relieve pain and pressure on your nerves.
Many people with osteoporosis are able to live without high levels of back pain if they rest and take pain medication as needed. It isn’t possible to reverse bone damage from osteoporosis, but taking calcium supplements, not smoking, and taking medication to strengthen your bones can help protect against future breaks.
If an injury caused your compression fracture, recovery can take eight to 10 weeks or longer. You may need to wear a back brace and get plenty of bed rest. If a tumor caused your fracture, the underlying cause of the tumor (lung cancer, for example) must be treated and the tumor removed. Your outlook will depend on the type of tumor that caused your condition.
Written by: Seth Stoltzfus
Medically reviewed on: Jan 11, 2016: William A Morrison, MD
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