Spinal compression fractures are small cracks in the vertebrae, or bones, of the spinal column. They usually occur in the lower part of the thoracic, or middle, region of the spine. Over time, the cracks may become serious enough to cause a vertebrae to collapse.
Causes of spinal compression fractures
These compression fractures may be the result of a medical condition that weakens the bone or some type of sudden trauma, such as a bad fall or an auto accident. Many spinal compression fractures are due to osteoporosis, a bone disease that develops when mineral density and bone mass decreases. This condition is especially common in post-menopausal women over age 50. Some older men may also develop osteoporosis. Other conditions that may weaken the bone include bone cancer, multiple myeloma, and lymphoma. Spinal tumors may also cause weakening of the vertebrae.
Common types of spinal compression fractures
- Wedge Fracture – The front of the bone collapses, but the back is unchanged. The result looks like a wedge shape. Multiple wedge fractures can lead to kyphosis, a condition in which the upper back curves forward.
- Crush Fracture – The entire vertebrae fractures, not just the front of the vertebrae. These fractures are generally mechanically stable since the bone collapses in on itself.
- Burst Fracture – This is a more severe fracture that usually happens after a trauma. The vertebrae is crushed in all directions. Bony fragments can spread out, causing injury to the spinal cord.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, although some people have no symptoms. Compression fractures can include back pain when standing or walking, decreased mobility or flexibility in the spine, an upper back forward curvature, loss of height, and pinched nerves with tingling or numbness.
The physician will perform a complete physical examination of the patient. Diagnostic tests may include x-rays and a CT scan, possibly with myelogram. A DEXA scan to measure bone density may be done to determine whether osteoporosis is a factor.
Treatment of spinal compression fractures varies depending on the type of fracture, the stability of the spine, and the patient’s symptoms. There are surgical and non-surgical options. The physicians at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of spinal compression fractures. If you are experiencing back pain, particularly in the thoracic region, contact our offices to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors.