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Back Fracture (Compression Fracture)

Your spine stretches from the base of your skull to your tailbone. It's composed of 33 bones (vertebrae) stacked on top of one another. These bones are strong enough to support the weight of your upper body. Certain injuries, however, can damage one or more of the vertebrae and cause them to collapse. A collapsed bone in your spine is known as a compression fracture.

Side view of vertebrae and disks showing compression fractures in vertebrae.

Causes of Compression Fracture

Many compression fractures result from osteoporosis. This disease thins your bones so they can't withstand normal pressure. Trauma from a car accident or hard fall can fracture even healthy vertebrae. In rare cases, vertebrae may fracture for unknown reasons.

When to Go to the Emergency Room (ER)

Call 911 if you've been in an accident or had a fall and have neck or back pain, especially when pain occurs with any of these symptoms:

  • Loss of control over your bowels or bladder

  • Numbness or weakness

  • High fever

  • Unexplained back pain in a person with cancer

What to Expect in the ER

A doctor will ask about your medical history and examine you. In some cases, you may have x-rays. You also may have other tests, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests can provide detailed images of your bones and spinal cord.

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the type and cause of the fracture. You will be given medication for pain. Severe fractures or those that cause nerve problems may need surgery. But many compression fractures mend on their own.

Follow-up

As you improve, you may be given exercises to strengthen your bones. If you have osteoporosis, your doctor may prescribe a medication to treat it. Sometimes you may have pain even after the bone has healed. In that case, your doctor will discuss your options with you.

 

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