Osteoporosis is a common bone disease that affects an estimated 54 million Americans. When osteoporosis occurs, the bones weaken and become more susceptible to breaking from a fall, or in serious cases, from minor bumps. According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch, more than 1.5 million osteoporosis-related fractures happen every year, with nearly half of those fractures occurring on the spinal column.
Compression fractures, which are damaged or broken bones that cause vertebrae to collapse, are a common spinal column injury that contributes to the millions of osteoporosis-related fractures we see every year.
What causes a compression fracture?
Osteoporosis is the most common cause of compression fractures. Since osteoporosis is a type of bone loss disease that causes bones to break more easily, patients with osteoporosis are at a greater risk of developing a compression fracture.
Other causes of compression fractures include spinal injuries (like car accidents or sports injuries) and tumors or infections in the spine. If the cause of a spinal compression fracture is a tumor or infection, this can over time spread beyond the spinal column.
What are the symptoms of a compression fracture?
While some patients who have experienced a compression fracture may feel immediate, sharp pain, not all patients will experience immediate symptoms. In some cases, the fracture may begin as a minor break that develops over time. Sometimes, a doctor may even identify a compression fracture while giving an x-ray for another reason, all before you even experience symptoms.
It is always ideal to identify a medical issue during the early stages before it progresses to a severe case. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, you may have a compression fracture:
- Slowly worsening back pain
- Back pain that worsens when standing
- Decrease in height
- Hunched-over posture
In particularly severe cases, patients may experience numbness or tingling in the legs, difficulty walking or loss of bladder or bowel control — and in those instances, should seek immediate medical care.
How do you diagnose compression fractures?
If you suspect that you may have a compression fracture, you should contact a back pain specialist who will be able to help you from diagnosis all the way to treatment. If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you will likely receive one or more scans, which may be an X-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computer Tomography Scan (CT scan).
Since osteoporosis and compression fractures heavily correlate with one another, if your doctor suspects you may have osteoporosis, they will likely conduct a bone density test to confirm if osteoporosis was the cause for your compression fracture.
How do I prevent compression fractures with osteoporosis?
Since osteoporosis is the most common cause of compression fractures, treating osteoporosis is one of the best preventative measures you can take. First, if you are unsure whether you have osteoporosis and are over the age of 65 (or have already experienced a bone fracture after the age of 50), you should request a bone density test from your doctor. With these results, your doctor can walk you through what measures you should take to either prevent or treat your osteoporosis and decrease the chances of compression fractures.
Preventive measures include taking in an adequate amount of calcium or Vitamin D, either in the form of food or supplements, consuming the recommended amount of dietary potassium and protein, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, and incorporating muscle strengthening exercise into your routine — like dancing, weight training, walking or aerobics. If your bone density is particularly low, your doctor may benefit a course of treatment for your osteoporosis, like administration of medication with bisphosphonates, which according to John Hopkins Medicine, has been shown to reduce the risk of spinal fractures by 50 to 60 percent.
What treatment options are available for compression fractures?
Your course of treatment for a compression fracture will vary based on the severity of the fracture and the cause. For example, if you have osteoporosis and it’s the likely cause of your compression fracture, then treatment will probably involve preventative measures to treat osteoporosis and maintain bone health. Treatment for osteoporosis may include incorporating calcium and Vitamin D supplements for bone strength, or bone density medication formulated with bisphosphonates, which can be taken orally or as an injectable administered by a back pain specialist.
Other forms of conservative, non-invasive treatment for compression fractures include pain medications, wearing a back brace, physical therapy, and bed rest.
In instances where a compression fracture is severe, or conservative treatment methods do not offer relief, your back pain specialist may recommend surgical options like a spinal fusion surgery or kyphoplasty. A spinal fusion involves joining the fractured vertebrae together by inserting interbody spacers filled with bone graft in the space in between the fracture. Kyphoplasty is a procedure to restore vertebral height and involves the injection of bone cement into the fractured vertebrae. Some orthopedic practices, like Citrus Spine Institute, can perform a kyphoplasty procedure in-office in as little as one hour.
Contact Citrus Spine to Discuss Your Back Pain
If you suspect that you have osteoporosis or are experiencing symptoms of a compression fracture, contact the specialists at Citrus Spine today. Our board-certified healthcare providers will listen to your concerns and review non-surgical or surgical treatment options with you to create a plan suited to your needs.
If you are experiencing back pain symptoms, you should never ignore or try to suffer through the pain. Always consult your doctor and have open conversations. If you are not satisfied with your doctor or require specialized care, it is recommended to get a second opinion from a back pain specialist.