Back Injury : Compression Fractures

A vertebral compression fracture refers to a "flattening" of the vertebra when a sharp downward or upward force has been applied to the spine. This is known as a axial load injury. The vertebrae are the bony structures which are "stacked" on top of one another, making up the spinal column. This type of axial injury can result in a compression of one [or more] of the vertebrae.

Common symptoms of compression fracture include severe sharp pain at a specific location along the spinal column. This same area will exhibit extreme tenderness to palpation. In addition, the patient will be in too much pain to walk. This is in contrast to an acute back strain (muscle injury), where the pain is located in the muscles along each side of the spinal column. Severe compression fractures may also produce neurologic symptoms in association with the above. These include numbness, tingling, or weakness in an extremity.

Evaluation will include: examination for any neurologic deficit, palpation along the spine to determine the degree of injury, and spine x-rays to reveal any fracture. Magnetic resonance scanning may be performed if nerve injury is suspected).

Treatment involves strict bedrest, pain medications and anti-inflammatories. Hospitalization may be required in cases of multiple compression fractures, nerve involvement, and the necessity for major pain control. Younger patients with a vertebral compression fracture can have disability that ranges from 4-6 months duration.

The elderly (females more than males) are subject to spontaneous compression fractures that occur secondarily to the progressive effects of osteoporosis. Long-term confinement to bed or wheelchair increases the possibility of spontaneous compression fracture. Postmenopausal females should take a calcium supplement (and/or estrogen) to help avoid this problem.

An Orthopaedic Surgeon is the expert in the care of the patient with a vertebral compression fracture.

Hope this article will provide you information about compression fractures.

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