Compression fractures are a type of fracture that occurs when a vertebra in the spine collapses or is compressed due to a force or trauma. The vertebrae are the small, stacked bones that make up the spine, and they are responsible for supporting the weight of the body and protecting the spinal cord. Compression fractures can happen in any vertebra in the spine, but they are most common in the lower thoracic and upper lumbar vertebrae.
Causes of Compression Fractures
Compression fractures can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
Osteoporosis: This is the most common cause of compression fractures, especially in older adults. Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become weak and brittle, making them more susceptible to fractures.
Trauma: A sudden force or injury, such as a fall or a car accident, can cause compression fractures in younger adults or those with healthy bones.
Cancer: Cancer that has spread to the bones, such as from breast, lung, or prostate cancer, can weaken the vertebrae and cause compression fractures.
Infection: Certain infections, such as osteomyelitis or tuberculosis, can weaken the vertebrae and cause compression fractures.
Osteogenesis imperfecta: This is a genetic disorder that causes bones to be brittle and fragile, making them more susceptible to fractures.
Long-term steroid use: Taking high doses of steroids for an extended period of time can weaken bones and increase the risk of compression fractures.
Spinal tumors: Tumors that develop in the spine can weaken the vertebrae and cause compression fractures.
Spinal deformities: Certain spinal deformities, such as scoliosis, can increase the risk of compression fractures.
It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause of a compression fracture and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Signs and Symptoms of Compression Fractures
The signs and symptoms of a compression fracture can vary depending on the severity and location of the fracture. Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Sudden onset of back pain: Compression fractures can cause sudden, severe back pain that may worsen with movement or standing.
- Loss of height: Compression fractures can cause a loss of height as the collapsed vertebrae can cause the spine to shorten.
- Kyphosis: Severe compression fractures can lead to a hunchback posture or an abnormal curvature of the spine called kyphosis.
- Limited mobility: Compression fractures can make it difficult to move around, and the individual may experience stiffness and decreased mobility in the affected area.
- Neurological symptoms: In severe cases, compression fractures can cause nerve damage, leading to tingling, numbness, weakness, or bowel and bladder dysfunction.
- Breathing difficulties: Compression fractures in the thoracic spine (the upper part of the back) can make it difficult to breathe deeply.
If you are experiencing back pain or any of the symptoms listed above, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for an evaluation and appropriate treatment.
Treatment for Compression Fractures
The physiotherapy treatment for compression fractures typically focuses on reducing pain, improving mobility, and preventing future fractures. Here are some common physiotherapy treatments for compression fractures:
Pain management: Modalities such as heat or ice therapy, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound may be used to reduce pain and inflammation in the affected area.
Bracing: A back brace may be recommended to help support the spine and reduce pain. The brace may be worn for a few weeks or months, depending on the severity of the fracture.
Bed rest: Rest is often recommended for the first few days after a compression fracture to allow the bone to heal. A physiotherapist can provide guidance on how to safely move and change positions in bed to avoid further injury.
Exercise: Gentle exercise can help improve mobility and reduce stiffness in the affected area. This may include exercises such as walking, gentle stretching, and range of motion exercises.
Strengthening exercises: Strengthening exercises may be recommended to help improve the stability of the spine and reduce the risk of future fractures. These exercises may include core strengthening, back strengthening, and weight-bearing exercises.
Education: A physiotherapist can provide education on proper body mechanics and posture to help reduce the risk of future fractures. They may also provide guidance on safe movements and activities to avoid further injury.
It is important to work with a qualified physiotherapist to develop an individualized treatment plan for compression fractures, as the specific treatment approach will depend on the severity and location of the fracture, as well as individual factors such as age, fitness level, and overall health.
If you have any questions or would like to speak to a therapist about compression fractures please call us at 03 9836 1126.
Razzaq, R., Ullah, E., Bukhsh, M., & Asad, M. (2021). Effectiveness of physical therapy in the management of osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Cureus