Approximately one in every four adults over the age of 50 will have at least one spinal compression fracture, according to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Spinal compression fractures occur when you flex your back and the front portion of your spine collapses on itself. The most common cause of compression fractures is osteoporosis, which weakens your bones and increases the risk of fracture. Other conditions, however, can also cause spinal compression fractures.
If you have severe osteoporosis, simple movements such as lifting a light object, coughing or sneezing can cause a spinal compression fracture. Falling out of a chair, tripping or lifting a heavy object can all cause a compression fracture if you have osteoporosis. A traumatic injury to your back, such as a car accident, can also cause spinal compression fractures, as can spinal tumors and infection.
The most common symptom of a spinal compression fracture is pain in the middle or lower part of your back. Some compression fractures produce no symptoms and can be diagnosed only by x-ray. Over time, compression fractures can lead to height loss due to collapse of the back bones. If you have multiple compression fractures, your spine may begin to curve abnormally, leading to a hunched posture. This can cause breathing problems due to excessive spinal curvature impinging on the lungs. In rare cases, compression fractures can put pressure your spinal cord, leading to numbness, tingling and weakness.
Your doctor may initially treat spinal compression fractures conservatively, with pain medication and rest. Once you're cleared to move, your doctor may prescribe a brace to stabilize your spine. Additionally, you may go through physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles around your back and improve spinal movement.
If your pain doesn’t improve with conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery. In these two very similar surgical options, called kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty, a type of surgical "cement" is used to stabilize and increase the height of the compressed back bones. However, there is controversy with regard to the effectiveness of these procedures. Research published in "Maturitas" in 2012 indicates that although many people state they experience pain relief following these procedures, they are no more effective than "sham procedures" performed on a control group. In other words, there's evidence that the benefit is a placebo effect, although research is ongoing.