A compression fracture is a relatively common spinal condition which generally results in elderly patients, although it can occur in people of virtually any age. Compression injuries can affect virtually any weight bearing joint in the body, including the hip, knee, ankle and others. However, the scope of this article focuses on compression traumas to the spinal vertebrae.
Compression is a term which means to press down upon forcefully. In this type of injury, it is the actual weight of the body pressing down forcibly upon a joint or bone, enacting enough pressure to actually cause bones to crack under the stress.
Fractured vertebrae can result from trauma or degenerative processes and sometimes elude diagnosis for many years.
Vertebral fractures due to compression generally occur due to 2 primary causations. The first and most common source of compression injuries to the spinal vertebrae is low bone density.
Osteoporosis and osteomalacia make the vertebral bones weak and prone to injury. Any force applied to these diminished strength bones can create the ideal circumstances for a compression break event. Sometimes, the mere weight of the body pressing down is enough to fracture the most delicate of porous vertebral bones.
Obesity is the other major source of compression breaks, since a disproportionately heavy body will apply inordinate stress to the spinal column. Osteoporosis and obesity together will certainly create an optimal environment for vertebral compression breaks to occur.
In rare cases of extreme trauma, compression breaks can occur in otherwise healthy patients.
The expected symptomology of a compression break varies greatly. Some of these events are very painful and some are only slightly uncomfortable. A great number of compression breaks are completely asymptomatic and might not even be discovered for many years. Generally, the softer the bones are to begin with, the less the chance of experiencing a painful fracture.
It is important to know that many fractures begin as a small crack and slowly progress to become more severe and possibly symptomatic. This is why it is very important for patients with porous bones to receive regular monitoring to prevent severe fractures from accumulating in their spines.
If left untreated, significant compression-type fractures can eventually lead to the break down of the spinal structures and possible instability in the vertebral column.
Both obesity and osteoporosis can generally be prevented, so it is advisable to do everything possible to stop the conditions from occurring before compression breaks can begin to cause havoc with your life and health.
Talk to your doctor about the methods you can use to reduce your body weight and increase your bone strength as you age. It is never too late to start on a healthier path.
If you have already experienced a compression break, talk to your care provider about possible treatment options. Remember that many therapy modalities might have inherent risks, so take your time and consider your choices carefully.