What is spinal compression fracture?

Spinal Compression Fracture
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Compression fracture of the spine: Overview

A compression fracture happens when the front part of a spinal bone breaks and collapses. A fall or other accident can cause it. A minor injury or moving the wrong way can cause a break if you have thin or brittle bones (osteoporosis).

These types of breaks usually will heal within a few months. You may need to rest at first, but it's best to return to your normal activity as soon as you can. You may need medicine for pain. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy. Some doctors recommend that certain people with compression fractures wear braces.

Your doctor also may treat thin or brittle bones. You may need surgery if you have lasting pain or if the bone presses on the spinal cord or nerves.

You heal best when you take good care of yourself. Eat a variety of healthy foods, and don't smoke.

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.

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 treating the pain with analgesics or calcitonin. Surgery may be needed if there is any loss of function because of bone pressing on the spinal cord or spinal nerves.

How can you care for a compression fracture of the spine?

  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Talk to your doctor about how to make your bones stronger. You may need medicines or a change in what you eat.
  • Be active only as directed by your doctor.

Compression fracture of the spine: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You are unable to move an arm or a leg at all.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms in your arms, legs, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.
  • You have belly pain, bloating, vomiting, or nausea.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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