Each year in the United States, between 1 and 1.5 million vertebral compression fractures occur, some over time and some as a result of a trauma. Since compression fractures can develop acutely or gradually, the signs can be quite different.
To help you figure out whether you might be dealing with a compression fracture, the team here at Comprehensive Pain Management, led by Dr. Boris Shwartzman and Dr. Do Chan, pull together the following information, including four of the more common signs of a problem.
Compression fractures at a glance
As the name implies, a compression fracture is one in which the main bony structure of your vertebra breaks, causing the overall structure to collapse or compress.
As we mentioned, compression fractures along your spine can occur due to an accident — in fact, among younger patients, 50% of these fractures are caused by car accidents and another 25% are due to falls.
A majority of compression fractures, however, occur due to age and bone loss. Since women are more susceptible to osteoporosis after they pass through menopause, about one-quarter of women 50 years and older have one compression fracture, typically in their thoracic spine.
Of all people aged 80 or older, between 40% and 50% have at least one compression fracture.
In many cases, there are no obvious or hard-to-ignore symptoms that a problem exists, but there may be some subtle signs.
Four subtle and not-so-subtle signs of a compression fracture
To help you recognize a vertebral compression fracture, here are some common signs:
1. Back pain
When a spinal compression fracture causes pain, it can do so in several ways. For example, you may feel sudden and acute pain in your back. Or, you may experience pain only after you’ve been on your feet for a while. You can also experience nagging pain due to muscle strain as the supporting structures in your back compensate for the collapse in your vertebra.
2. Loss of mobility
With a compression fracture, you may experience a loss of mobility along your spine. Since most compression fractures occur in your mid back, which doesn’t enjoy a wide range of movement, the loss of movement is subtle. For example, you may not be able to turn or twist your back as much as you were able and bending can become difficult.
3. Loss of height
With vertebral compression fractures that occur gradually, you may begin to lose some height. The loss may be a half an inch at first, but eventually lead to a loss of height of a few inches.
4. Deformity in your back
Many people with compression fractures in their upper backs develop a hump as the vertebrae collapse to the inside of the spine, causing your spine to bow outward. Also called a dowager’s hump, this deformity can worsen as time passes.
Treating compression fractures
If you recognize any of these symptoms, we urge you to come see us for an evaluation. A quick X-ray is often enough for us to determine whether you have a compression fracture. Should we find that your vertebra has collapsed, we can discuss your treatment options. We’ve had great success treating compression fractures with kyphoplasty, a procedure in which we restore height to your vertebra with a special cement.
If you suspect you have a vertebral compression fracture, please contact one of our offices — in Attleboro or Franklin, Massachusetts, or South Kingstown or Warwick, Rhode Island — for expert diagnosis and treatment.