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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. But certain injuries can damage 1 or more of the vertebrae and cause them to collapse. A collapsed bone in your spine is known as a compression fracture.

As you age, your bones lose calcium. This can lead to bone loss (osteopenia) or osteoporosis. This raises the risk for compression fractures and other fractures, such as in the hip.

Side view of thoracic veretebrae showing a vertebral compression fracture.

What to expect in the ER

A healthcare provider will ask about your health history and examine you. In some cases, you may have X-rays. You also may have other tests, such as a CT scan or MRI. These tests can give detailed images of your bones and spinal cord.


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


As you improve, you may be given exercises to strengthen your bones. Your healthcare provider may also order a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). This is a special type of X-ray that measures bone mineral density and bone loss. If the DEXA shows your bone density is lower than expected for your age, it means you have a risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures.

If you have osteoporosis, your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine to treat it. Sometimes you may have pain even after the bone has healed. In that case, your healthcare provider will discuss your options.

Causes of compression fracture

Many compression fractures result from osteoporosis. This disease thins and weakens your bones so they can't withstand normal pressure and are more likely to break. Trauma from a car accident or hard fall can fracture even healthy vertebrae. In rare cases,a tumor in the bone may be the cause of a fracture. Sometimes 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

Online Medical Reviewer: Luc Jasmin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2021
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