Compression fractures

A compression fracture occurs when an injury to a spinal bone (vertebra) causes it to fracture and collapse (compress). A weakened vertebra may collapse because of a minor injury or without an obvious injury, often as the result of osteoporosis, which is most common in women after menopause.

When several vertebrae have been fractured, a person may lose height. Compression fractures may lead to a hump in the upper back (dowager's hump) and may cause back pain.

Treatment of compression fractures may include treating the osteoporosis with medicines and calcium and treatin the pain with analgesics or calcitonin. A brace or corset is sometimes recommended, to keep the back stable as the bones heal. Surgery may be needed if there is any loss of function because of bone pressing on the spinal cord or spinal nerves. Two surgical treatments, vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, may be done to try to relieve persistent pain. In these procedures, surgical bone cement is injected into the crushed vertebrae through a needle.

Last Updated: February 3, 2010

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine & Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics

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