What is a Spinal Compression Fracture?
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.