Spinal compression fractures occur when small hairline fractures in the spinal bones eventually cause a vertebra to collapse. The tiny fractures may permanently alter the strength and shape of the spine, causing patients to lose height. Most occur in the front of the vertebra, which causes the front part of the bone to collapse, resulting in a wedge-shaped vertebra. This causes patients to stoop forward, a condition called kyphosis, or dowager’s hump.
Most compression fractures in women over the age of 50 are related to osteoporosis. It is also a symptom of patients with cancer that has spread to their bones. A common symptom of spinal compression fractures is back pain. But many of these fractures are never diagnosed because patients think back pain is a regular sign of aging and don’t seek treatment.
At UPMC, neurosurgeons treat the majority of spinal compression fractures with pain medication, reduction in physical activity, medication to stabilize bone density, and back bracing to minimize motion during the healing process. Surgery is recommended when chronic pain from a spinal compression fracture persists despite non-surgical treatments. Minimally invasive surgery such as vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty may be used to treat spinal compression fractures. Spinal fusion surgery is also sometimes performed to stabilize the spine.
Patients with spinal compression fractures may feel pain that subsides as the bone heals. Others will continue to feel pain, even after the fracture has healed. However, not everyone with spinal fracture feels pain. Some people may feel pain in the abdomen rather than in the back, as a result of the spine compressing the internal organs.
Symptoms may include:
To diagnose a spinal compression fracture, the doctor will perform a physical exam and ask the patient about his or her pain and other symptoms. The doctor may also order x-rays, CT scans or MRI studies. If the doctor suspects the fracture is caused by cancer, he or she may order a bone biopsy.
At UPMC, we treat the majority of spinal compression fractures with pain medication, reduction in activity, medication to stabilize bone density, and back bracing to minimize motion during the healing process. Pain medications may include acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Narcotics and muscle relaxants are often prescribed for short periods of time, and antidepressants can also help relieve nerve-related pain. If osteoporosis has caused the fracture, treatment generally includes bone-strengthening drugs such as bisphosphonates to help stabilize or restore bone loss and prevent further fractures.
Surgery is only recommended when chronic pain from a spinal compression fracture persists despite non-surgical treatments. Surgery may include spinal fusion surgery or minimally invasive surgery such as vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty. In vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, a small incision is made in the back and an acrylic bone cement is inserted into the spinal bone. Once it hardens, it helps stabilize the vertebra and spine. Most patients go home the same day or after one night’s stay in the hospital.
Spinal fusion surgery is sometimes used to eliminate motion between two vertebrae and to relieve pain. This procedure connects two vertebrae together with metal screws until they have a chance to fuse together.
How can we help you?
Schedule anappointment >
Ask a question >
Request our expertopinion >
1-877-986-9862(within the U.S.)
Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit www.healthwise.org
For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.
UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.
Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.
For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com