Compression Fractures

Compression fractures also known as Spinal Compression Fractures, or Vertebral compression fractures (VCFs), occur when forces applied to the spine are greater than its structural strength. When the front part of the spine called the vertebral body (it bears 70-90% of the weight of the spine), collapses it results in a compression fracture. 700,000 to 1,000,000 compression fractures occur in the United States every year.

Fractures Occur in Different Patterns

Wedge Fracture

Occurs when the front of the vertebral body collapses leaving the back of the vertebral body unchanged. This process results in a wedge-shaped vertebra and can cause a Dowager’s Hump. Wedge fractures are a common type of compression fracture.

Crush Fracture 

If the entire vertebral body collapses, rather than just the front of the vertebra, it is called a crush fracture.

Burst Fracture

This type of fracture involves an explosion of the vertebral body with bone fragments shooting out to the sides.

Model of a Compression Fracture

How is Compression Fracturing caused?

Osteoporosis is the most common cause of compression fractures, however can be caused by cancer / physical injury such as a hard fall. Compression fractures usually occur in the elderly but can also be caused by trauma in young people.

Side effects of Compression Fracture

Vertebral fractures are usually followed by acute back pain and may lead to chronic pain, possible deformity (Dowager’s Hump), loss of height, or loss of muscle anaerobic conditioning due to lack of activity. Fractures can lead to bed sores, blood clots, and pneumonia if the decrease in physical activity is severe enough. The problem is that the compression fractures are not always recognized or accurately diagnosed. Often, the patient’s pain is just thought of as a general back pain, such as a muscle strain or other soft tissue injury, or as a common part of aging.

X-Ray of a Compression Fracture

X-Ray of a Compression Fracture

How is Compression Fracturing treated?

Most compression fractures heal on their own over 3 to 6 months. Occasionally the fractures continue to break down or catastrophically collapse, causing spine deformity, pinched nerves, chronic pain, and very rarely paralysis. Avoid strenuous activity, or lifting more than 5 pounds. Wearing a back brace may reduce the risk of worsening the compression fracture. In more serious compression fractures, requires a Kyphoplasty. Consult Dr. Sturm about your options and Arch Advanced Pain Management.

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