Compression fracture is a common condition, largely caused by osteoporosis or lost bone density that occurs with increasing age. Compression fractures occur in both men and women but are much more common in women. It is estimated that 1 in 4 American post-menopausal women experience a compression fracture at some time.
A compression fracture is a result of collapse of the vertebral body, the chain of bones that make up the spinal column. This collapse can cause pain, deformity and diminished height. For those patients with osteoporosis, compression fractures can occur with even minor strain. In most people with normal bone density, however, compression fractures occur only with significant trauma such as a hard fall. In some cases, a tumor within the vertebral body can weaken the bone and lead to a compression fracture.
The symptoms associated with a compression fracture depend on the location of the vertebral body affected. These symptoms can include: back pain, pain exacerbated by standing or walking, pain alleviated by lying on the back, limited back mobility, height loss, or deformity. Compression fractures can lead to spinal instability, kyphosis or "hunching" of the back or neurological complications related to pressure placed on the spinal cord or nerves. Doctors will often use imaging, such as x-rays, CT scans or MRIs to further evaluate the compression fracture and to design the best treatment plan. Treatment options include rest, pain medications, bracing and medications to improve bone density. When surgery is required, surgeons can choose between vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, two types of minimally invasive spine surgeries, to treat the condition. Vertebroplasty is the insertion of acrylic bone cement into the collapsed vertebra to stabilize it. Kyphoplasty is a similar procedure but also involves the injection of cement into balloons placed within the fractured vertebra. These balloons help to restore the lost height of the spine. These procedures are not for every vertebral compression fracture, however. For some, the fracture is best treated with the conservative measures mentioned earlier.