What Is a Compression Fracture of the Spine?

The vertebrae (or "vertebral bodies") are the bones that form the spinal column. A compression fracture of the spine describes a collapse of one or more of these bones.

How Do Compression Fractures of the Spine Happen?

Anyone can get a compression fracture of the spine from a serious fall or car accident. People with weakened bones can get them from a minor fall or without any trauma at all. Medical problems that cause weakened bones include osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Compression Fracture of the Spine?

Someone with a compression fracture of the spine may have pain that happens right after an injury. Or they might notice back pain that seems to start without a known cause, but doesn't go away. Sometimes people with a compression fracture of the spine do not have any pain at all.

 Diagram of the spine showing a compression fracture in one vertebra, as described in the article. 

Over time, a compression fracture can lead to loss of height and curving of the spine.

How Are Compression Fractures of the Spine Diagnosed?

To diagnose a compression fracture, health care providers talk to patients about their symptoms, do a physical exam, and get X-rays. Sometimes other imaging tests, like a CT scan or MRI, are done to get more information about the fracture and the areas around it. A bone density test may be done to learn more about the strength of the bones.

How Are Compression Fractures of the Spine Treated?

Treatment for a compression fracture of the spine depends on how severe it is and if there are other medical problems. Treatments may include:

  • rest
  • a back brace
  • pain medicine
  • physical therapy to strengthen the muscles that support the spine
  • medicines, if there is a health problem causing weak bones
  • surgery

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your health care provider right away if your child has:

  • severe back pain that does not go away after taking pain medicines
  • loss of feeling or "pins and needles" in the legs or feet
  • trouble controlling his or her bladder or bowels

Looking Ahead

How a child heals from a compression fracture depends on how severe it is and what caused it. Help your child get the best result by going to all follow-up doctor visits, giving medicines as directed, and following instructions about which activities are OK and which to avoid.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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