Vertebral compression fractures
Compression fractures may occur suddenly, causing severe back pain that is:
- Most commonly felt in mid to lower part of the spine, but may also be felt on the sides or in the front.
- Described as “knifelike” and usually disabling, often taking weeks to months to go away
Compression fractures due to osteoporosis may cause no symptoms at first and may only be discovered when x-rays of the spine are done for other reasons. Over time, the following symptoms may occur:
- Back pain that starts slowly, which gets worse with walking but is not felt when resting
- Loss of height, as much as 6 inches over time
- Stooped over posture or kyphosis, also called a "dowager’s hump"
Pressure on the spinal cord from hunched over posture may rarely produce symptoms of:
Numbness Tingling Weakness
- Difficulty walking
- Loss of control of the bowel or bladder
Signs and tests
Your doctor will perform a physical exam. This may reveal:
- A humpback, or kyphosis
- Tenderness over the affected spinal bone or bones
Other tests that may be done:
- A bone density test to evaluate for osteoporosis
- A CT or MRI scan if there is concern that the fracture was caused by a tumor or severe trauma (such as a fall from a height or car accident)
Review Date: 12/01/2010
Reviewed By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.