Vertebral Compression Fractures

A vertebral compression fracture occurs when a vertebra becomes compressed as a result of trauma. The trauma can vary from mild (in patients with advanced osteoporosis) to substantial, as would be the case in a sporting injury.

The vertebrae that most commonly experience fractures are those in the lower portion of the spine, but fractures can occur at any point.


What causes a vertebral compression fracture?

There are a number of causes that may contribute to a vertebral compression fracture, but they are most common in patients with advanced osteoporosis. An estimated 25% of women will experience a vertebral compression fracture post-menopause and 40% of women over the age of 80.

For those with severe osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones), it can be caused by something as simple as stepping over an object or a sudden jarring movement. But for most, it is brought on by a fall or overexertion trying to lift something heavy. And patients with osteoporosis who have had a vertebral compression fracture are five times more likely to experience a second.

For people who do not have osteoporosis, a vertebral compression fracture is most likely to be caused by severe trauma such as a car accident or a contact sports injury. If a person under the age of 55 presents with a vertebral compression fracture and no trauma, metastatic tumors may be the cause, as this is a common site for the spread of cancers.

What are the symptoms?

A vertebral compression fracture may have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Sudden, often extreme, back pain which tends to occur in the lower back, but may occur in the neck, upper back or middle back
  • Numbness or tingling signaling the compression of nerves at the site of the fracture
  • Increased pain intensity when standing or walking
  • Relief from pain when lying down
  • Reduced mobility in the spine
  • Incontinence or the inability to urinate
  • Loss of height, spine deformity or disability

When should you call a doctor?

If you are over the age of 65, have cancer or experience continued pain, whether resting or while active, you should get an opinion from a doctor. Additionally, if you have recently lost weight or are experiencing one or more of the symptoms discussed above, it is advisable to get a diagnosis.

Your doctor will take your medical history and conduct a physical exam and may order x-rays, CT scans, or an MRI to get a full view of the spine. If you have a severe fracture, you may need surgery.

Make an Appointment

A vertebral compression fracture is a serious condition and should not be left untreated. If you have ongoing back and neck pain, it is important to speak to advice from a qualified professional. At Northwest Surgical Specialists, our experienced doctors have the experience and expertise to ensure that you get an accurate diagnosis and the best treatment to manage your condition.