Compression fractures represent a specific type of fractures affecting the spine (to be more precise vertebra or vertebrae). As a result of the fracture the affected vertebra/vertebrae collapses and compresses the spinal cord or spinal nerves.
Compression fractures are rather common in serious traumatic accidents such as falling from an extreme height. They may also occur spontaneously, particularly in individuals in whom the bones are weak (osteoporosis) or affected by some other pathological process (metastases).
This type of fractures may affect each segment of the spine, cervical, thoracic and lumbar, but the last two are most commonly involved.
Compression Fractures Clinical Characteristics
One of the most characteristic symptoms of compression fractures is back pain. It is located in the affected segment of the spine. Depending on its initial locations, the pain may further radiate towards the nearby tissues and organs. For instance, pain in the upper back may affects only the back or spreads down the arm. Also, pain in the lumbar segment may radiate towards the hip, thighs or abdomen.
The injured area of the spine is very sensitive and tender to touch. Compression of the spinal cord or spinal nerves is to blame for many different neurological symptoms and signs such as numbness, tingling, muscle weakness etc. Severe compression in certain parts of the spine is associated with loss of control over the bladder and bowel.
If there are multiple compression fractures, it is possible to see significant change in the curvature of the spine. Multiple fractures usually affect people suffering from osteoporosis. Finally, in such case the overall height of the patient is reduced.
Diagnosing Compression Fractures
Compression fractures cannot be diagnoses only with physical and neurological exams. The patient must undergo X-ray, CT scan or MRI of the entire spine. Only this way the compression can be confirmed. these imaging methods (particularly if combined) give an excellent insight in the very location of the fracture, the extent of compression etc.
Compression Fracture Treatment
The treatment for compression fractures depends on the underlying cause. In individuals suffering from osteoporosis it is essential to provide with adequate treatment (prescription medicine, calcium supplements and pain killers). Some of them will require back braces.
Severe cases of compression fractures in which the spine and spinal nerves suffers severe damage require prompt surgical care. Kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty are two surgical procedures performed for compression fractures. Both of them are minimally invasive surgeries with excellent results. They provide proper stabilization of the fractured vertebrae and deal with compression of the vital structures.