Spinal Compression Fracture: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Spine is the most complex structure in human body. It is made up of several small bones called vertebra. The functional mechanism is fascinating; it provides range of motion and at the same time supports the entire skeleton. Naturally the vertebras have to be strong. However, the bones of spine are as vulnerable as any other bone in the body for fracture.

Compression fracture is the most common fracture of spine. In compression fracture one vertebra collapses over the other. Osteoporosis is the main cause for spinal compression fracture. Falling on ground, extreme pressure and an injury to spine may be the precipitating factor.

Compression fracture of spine in majority of cases heals without surgery. Rest, support to the back and medicines are required. The fractured vertebra may take two to three months to heal.

What Causes Spinal Compression Fractures?

A normal human spine is able to withstand great amount of stress and strain produced during regular activity. Compression fracture can only occur when the vertebra has become weak or the amount of force on the spine is extreme. Compression is most common in thoracic spine though all vertebrae are vulnerable to fracture.

Osteoporosis is the commonest cause for compression fracture in spine.

It is the condition where the bones become weak and soft due to loss of calcium from the bones. Sometimes an osteoporotic vertebra may crack even with small amount of pressure or bending forwards. It often results in hunch back in elderly individuals also called kyphosis. Women after menopause are prone to osteoporosis. Often the shape of spine is permanently changed.

Compression fracture also results when the spinal bones become weak due to parathyroid disease. Parathyroid is a gland situated behind the thyroid gland. It secretes parathyroid hormone (PTH). Its function is regulation of calcium in the blood. When there is an increase of PTH due to overactive parathyroid gland it produces excess of PTH. This leads to extraction of more calcium from the bones into the blood. The disease is called hyperparathyroidism. Usually a tumor in parathyroid gland causes hyperparathyroidism.

Metastatic cancer of spine can make the vertebra weak. It may lead to compression fracture.

Traumatic injury to the spine can cause spinal compression fracture; for example when a person falls on his buttocks.

Spinal Compression Fracture Symptoms

People over the age of 50 are prone to osteoporosis especially women after menopause. These people are risk group for compression fracture of spine. Below are given important indications for spinal compression fractures.

  • In the beginning pain in back is mild which ultimately becomes severe after a period of time.
  • Backache may worsen when the patient coughs or bends or even when he walks or does his regular activities.
  • There is spinal deformity called kyphosis. It is a hunch back deformity. It leads to reduction in height of a person.
  • When it is caused due to traumatic injury, the pain in back is sudden and intense. It may radiate to the front of chest encircling the lower ribs.
  • Spinal compression fracture can damage the spinal nerves and in severe condition it can result in paralysis of lower limbs and incontinence of urine and stool.

Treatment For Spinal Compression Fracture

Majority of compression fractures of spine are treated conservatively. Seldom may it require surgical correction as for example after a severe car accident etc.

  • Rest is important part of treatment when the vertebral bone is compressed and cracked. Patient should avoid doing all his regular activities and take bed rest for a week or as may be suggested by the treating doctor. He should not do any heavy work such as lifting heavy objects or bending suddenly etc.
  • Medicines may be required to alleviate pain. The physician may also prescribe calcium supplements to strengthen the vertebral bones. Patient should increase the intake of milk and other rich calcium foods.
  • Patient may also need to support his back and it is provided with back brace. Wearing it around the chest or lower back as the site of vertebral fracture may be will limit the movement of spine and thus help the healing process.
  • Surgery may be necessary in accidental cases. It is especially indicated when the fragment of fractured bone is irritating the spinal nerves or the spinal cord itself.