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Symptoms of a Spinal Compression Fracture

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It is important to identify the symptoms of spinal compression fractures and notify your doctor right away. Sudden, severe back pain, especially in older women, may signal a spinal compression fracture or another serious condition.

Anyone with significant back pain -- especially a woman who is near or over age 50 -- should see a doctor. Most compression fractures in women over 50 are due to osteoporosis and treatment can help reduce the chance of further compression fractures.

One or more symptoms can indicate a spinal fracture:

  • Sudden, severe back pain (though many times the symptoms can come on gradually and worsen over time)
  • Worsening of pain when standing or walking
  • Some pain relief when lying down
  • Difficulty and pain when bending or twisting
  • Loss of height
  • Deformity of the spine - the curved, "hunchback" shape

The pain typically occurs with a slight back strain during an everyday activity, like:

  • Lifting a bag of groceries
  • Bending to the floor to pick something up
  • Slipping on a rug or making a misstep
  • Lifting a suitcase out of the trunk of a car
  • Lifting the corner of a mattress when changing bed linens

 

Different Signs of Spinal Compression Fracture Pain

The pain experience of a spinal compression fracture can vary. For many people, the pain will subside while the bone is healing. That can take up to two or three months. Other people will continue feeling pain, even if the fracture has healed.

Not everyone feels a clear-cut spinal pain when a fracture occurs.

In some cases, there is virtually no pain involved with spinal compression fractures. The fractures may occur so gradually that the pain is relatively mild or unnoticeable. For some people, the pain may evolve into a chronic back ache in the injured area. For others, the gradual curving of the spine is the first indication that multiple fractures have occurred.

Signs of Multiple Spinal Compression Fractures

When multiple spinal compression fractures have occurred, there is considerable change in the spine. This can affect the internal organs and body functions:

  • Height loss: With each fracture of a spinal bone, the spine loses some of its height. Eventually, after several collapsed vertebrae, the person's shorter stature will be noticeable.
  • Kyphosis (curved back): These fractures often create wedge-shaped vertebral bones, which makes the spine bend forward. Eventually, neck and back pain may develop as your body tries to adapt.
  • Stomach complaints: A shorter spine can compress the stomach, causing a bulging stomach and digestive problems like constipation, less appetite, and weight loss.
  • Hip pain: The shorter spine brings the rib cage closer to the hip bones. If rib and hip bones are rubbing against each other, there will be discomfort and pain.
  • Breathing problems: If the spine becomes severely compressed, lungs may not function properly and breathing can be seriously affected.

The symptoms of spinal compression fractures are obviously different for every person. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 20, 2012
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