Compression Fractures

Compression Fractures of the Lumbar Spine

The lumbar spine is comprised of the five largest and strongest of all the vertebrae in the spine. The strongest stabilizing muscles of the spine are attached to the lumbar vertebrae therefore fractures of the lumbar vertebrae usually occur due to either trauma, weakening of the bone, or another underlying cause.

The trauma usually necessary to break the bones of this area of the spine is quite significant and may be the result of a fall in which a person lands on their feet or buttocks, a car accident in which other injuries may be present or in contact sports injuries. However, in the case of the elderly or in people with cancer, these bones can break with little or no force. Such is the case in people with osteoporosis commonly occurring in postmenopausal women or elderly men. Long term use of steroid medication such as prednisone can also cause loss of bone density making these people at risk for compression fractures. In the instance of a pathological fracture, there is a preexisting disease at the fracture site such as cancer in the bone that has traveled from other parts of the body.


Symptoms of a lumbar compression fracture may include:

  • Pain in the lower back
  • Possible pain in the hip, abdominal area or in the thigh.
  • Numbness, tingling and weakness (due to compression of the nerves)
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control or inability to urinate.


Diagnosis of a compression fracture begins with obtaining the patient's complete medical history. Unless evident, your doctor will want to know any recent injuries or activities that could of led to the fracture. It is important to know when the pain started and if it was sudden or gradual, the location and intensity of the pain. Whether or not different activities or positions make the patient feel better or worse and if the pain is radiating to the extremities or other parts of the body?

A physical examination will also be done to rule out other possible underlying problems. The doctor will also check to see if there is tenderness or sensitivity near specific areas of the spine. If a compression fracture is suspected, an X-ray, CT scan, MRI or a combination there of may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis as well as check for other issues that may be present.

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