Compression Fractures of the Spine
Compression Fractures of the Spine are a collapse of the vertebral bone that can affect one or more vertebra. It can result in a severe deformity of the spinal column. Compression fractures of the spine may affect any of the vertebrae, but most commonly occur in the lower thoracic and upper lumbar regions.
Types of Compression Fractures
Compression fracture describes a type of fracture in which a spinal vertebra caves in on itself due to compression—or pressure—on the bone. There are several types of compression fractures, each with different risks and treatment options.
The most common cause of a spinal compression fracture is osteoporosis. In vertebrae weakened by osteoporosis, a slight increase in stress, or even just the normal amount of pressure placed on them, can cause them to break.
Compression fractures occur most often in the lower portion of the thoracic (middle) spine or in the upper portion of the lumbar (lower) spine, where stressed tend to be highest on the vertebrae.
There are three types of compression fractures: wedge, crush, and burst.
Wedge fracture. A wedge fracture is the most common type of compression fracture. It usually occurs in the front of the cylinder-shaped vertebra, causing the front of the vertebra to collapse but leaving the back of the bone intact, resulting in a wedge shape. A wedge compression fracture is usually a mechanically stable fracture, but can lead to spinal deformity, such as a hunchback posture.
Crush fracture. A crush fracture is characterized by a fracture throughout the entire vertebra, not just the front. In this type of compression fracture, the bone tends to collapse in on itself, and these fractures are usually mechanically stable.
Burst fracture. A burst fracture is aptly named, because as the vertebra collapses, it breaks out in multiple directions, often sending pieces of shattered bone into the surrounding tissues of the spine or the spinal cord. This type of fracture is usually more serious than either a wedge or a crush fracture and more likely to be unstable. A burst fracture usually requires immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of compression fracture typically include pain and a forward curving of the spine that results in a hunched appearance and the loss of height. Symptoms may also include a loss of range of motion and reduction of sensation in the extremities.
Compression fractures can be caused by traumatic injury, such as a hard fall. But many cases of compression fracture develop as a result of osteoporosis. A person with osteoporosis may develop compression fractures during routine daily activities, and may not realize the extent of their injuries until they experience severe deformity of the spine.