Key Points about Compression Fractures 

  • Compression fractures of the spine occur for a number of reasons, including injury that involves excessive force, osteoporosis and cancer that has spread to the spine.
  • Specialists diagnose compression fractures using a combination of physical examination and imaging tests.
  • Treatment for spinal compression fractures typically includes a mix of pain relievers, physical therapy or surgery.
Common related conditions
Herniated Disc Scoliosis Spinal Deformities
In a spinal compression fracture, one or more back bones (vertebrae) collapses into itself and becomes smashed (compressed) into a wedge shape. Compression fractures are common in older people with osteoporosis, and can often occur with very little or no force.

Compression fractures causes 

Sudden force can cause a spinal compression fracture, such as in a car accident, fall from a height or gunshot wound. Osteoporosis can also cause compression fractures with little to no force.

Compression fractures risk factors

Factors that can increase your risk for developing a spinal compression fracture include:

  • Being older
  • Having osteoporosis
  • Having cancer that has metastasized (spread) to the spine

Compression fractures symptoms

Most people who suffer a compression injury as a result of osteoporosis don’t experience any symptoms. Over time, signs and symptoms of an osteoporosis-related compression fracture can include:

  • Back becomes rounded (kyphosis)
  • Decrease in height (person becomes shorter)
  • Difficulty climbing stairs or walking
  • Trouble bending, reaching or lifting
  • Trouble standing up straight
  • People who suffer a compression fracture due to an injury that causes great force may experience the following signs and symptoms:
  • Area of the spine that is tender to the touch
  • Back pain ranging from mild to severe
  • Back pain that radiates to the abdomen
  • Back pain that worsens when walking, standing, bending forward or sitting for a long period of time
  • Muscle spasms in the back
  • Sudden, sharp pain in the back, or pain that comes on gradually

Compression fractures diagnosis

Your specialist may use the following tests to diagnose your compression fracture:

Physical exam. Your specialist will complete a thorough physical exam, including asking questions about your health history.

Imaging tests. Your doctor may order an imaging test – such as an X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – to get a closer look at your spinal and locate fractures.

Compression fractures treatment

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments for your compression fracture:

Pain relievers. Depending on your level of pain and extent of the fracture, your specialist may recommend you take over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers.

Physical therapy. Working with a physical therapist can help you gain more range of motion, so you can resume normal activities more comfortably.

Surgery. You may need to undergo a surgical procedure called a vertebroplasty, in which your specialist stabilizes compressed vertebrae to help them better support your spine.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a spine specialist for more specialized treatment.