Spinal Compression Fracture

Osteoporosis, which weakens the bones of the spine, can put you at risk for suffering a spinal compression fracture. By taking measures to prevent osteoporosis, you can combat both of these conditions.

A spinal compression fracture is a crush injury to one of the bones of the spine (vertebrae). The bones of the spine are normally quite strong, and are put together in a way that protects both themselves and the spinal cord inside. Therefore, compression fractures are most often seen in people with weakened bones, such as those with osteoporosis. In some cases, the forces of an accident or fall can be great enough to fracture even healthy spinal bones.

Compression fractures are more often found at certain levels of the spinal column. For example, the lower thoracic and upper lumbar vertebrae are commonly involved because of the orientation of forces placed on the spine.

A compression fracture is often diagnosed on X-ray films following a trauma resulting in back pain. In other cases, the fracture may be smaller and require a bone scan to confirm the diagnosis. Risk factors such as osteoporosis immediately bring to mind the possibility of a compression fracture. This injury often results in a "slump forward" position. Unfortunately, this position can increase the pressure on the fractured bone.

Compression fractures can be quite painful, making activity difficult. In severe cases, medication and rest may be required initially after the trauma. As soon as possible, patients should begin moving about and doing "deep breathing" exercises. Because of the tendency for some people to slump forward, a brace may be required to take the pressure off the area of the fracture.

In patients without underlying bone disease, healing occurs at a rate similar to the other bones in the body (about 4-7 weeks). Gradually starting exercise and walking will stimulate bone healing and will reduce overall weakness and fatigue. Physical therapy may assist in starting activity and exercise. Occupational therapy can help increase functional independence through therapeutic activities and adaptive equipment. Additionally, dietary counseling and supplements may also ensure the bone is healing as quickly as possible.

Spinal compression fractures may be prevented by:

  • preventing the onset of osteoporosis
  • compliance with osteoporosis treatment programs
  • wearing your seat belt and driving safely
  • maintaining an active lifestyle which includes weight bearing activities (such as walking) and exercise for the muscles of the trunk.