Recognizing Compression Fractures

Recognizing a compression fracture isn’t always as easy as you might think. But identifying your symptoms and seeking treatment is essential -- and not just to ease your pain. After you have one vertebral compression fracture, you’re five times more likely to have another one down the road.

Prompt treatment from Richard B. Kim, MD, in Newport Beach, California, can lower your risk of future compression fractures. Dr. Kim has exceptional skill and extensive experience treating these fractures. You can depend on receiving customized treatment designed for your unique injury.

Here’s the information you need to know about compression fractures, from their causes to how you can recognize the symptoms.

Compression fracture causes

Compression fractures occur in your spine when one or more vertebrae collapse. This type of fracture has two causes: a weakened bone or a trauma.

Weakened vertebra (vertebral compression fracture)

When osteoporosis (the most common cause), a tumor, or an infection weakens the vertebrae, a vertebral bone can easily collapse. You only need to cough, sneeze, or bend over and the vertebra collapses because it can’t support normal pressure and movement.

Vertebral compression fractures affect the front part of the vertebra, while the back side of the bone maintains its normal height. As a result, the affected bone stays intact but takes on a wedge-like shape.

High-energy trauma (burst fracture)

The extreme force of a high-energy injury, such as falling from a great height or an automobile accident, crushes the vertebra. In a burst fracture, the entire bone collapses, often sending pieces of bone into the spinal canal.

Recognizing a compression fracture

The first step toward recognizing a compression fracture is knowing the symptoms. However, the symptoms differ depending on the type of fracture:

Vertebral compression fracture

Vertebral compression fractures can be challenging to recognize. You may experience sharp pain as soon as the vertebra collapses. However, the pain can develop gradually or only appear when you walk. Though not as common, you may have mild symptoms or none at all.

These compression fractures most often occur in your thoracic spine, which is the middle of your back where the vertebrae connect with ribs. In other words, you should expect to feel the pain in your middle back instead of your neck or lower back.

A minor vertebral compression fracture may heal on its own. As a result, you could have mild-to-moderate pain that goes away over the course of about 8-10 weeks.

Vertebral compression fractures uniquely cause a round-back deformity called kyphosis. When two or more adjacent vertebrae suffer compression fractures, their wedge-like shapes create a noticeable curvature in your thoracic spine. 

Your shoulders slump forward, while the upper-middle part of your back develops a hump. Over time, kyphosis also reduces your overall height.

Burst fracture

A burst fracture is easy to recognize, partly due to the obvious severe trauma, but also because you immediately associate the injury with your symptoms. 

You may experience:

People who suffer a burst fracture often have other injuries. For example, you may break an arm or leg, or sustain internal injuries affecting abdominal organs. In severe cases, a piece of the bone can damage the spinal cord and cause paralysis.

Risk factors for vertebral compression fractures

When you notice twinges of pain in your middle or upper back, you’re more likely to seek help for a vertebral compression fracture if you know you’re at risk for osteoporosis.

Your risk is higher if you have any of the following:

A family history of osteoporosis also raises your risk for a vertebral compression fracture.

Treatment for compression fractures

The most important thing is to seek treatment as soon as you think you have a compression fracture. Without treatment, a compression fracture affects the stability of your spine and ultimately leads to substantial pain.

Dr. Kim offers many treatments that ease your pain and restore stability and movement. From conservative options like back bracing, to procedures using a needle to repair the vertebra, and minimally invasive spine surgery, he has the expertise you can rely on for safe, effective treatment.

If you have questions about your symptoms or need to schedule an appointment, call Richard B. Kim, MD, or request an appointment online.

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