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What is a Lumbar Compression Fracture?

By Lucinda Reynolds
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The bones that surround the spinal cord are called vertebrae. The largest vertebrae are the ones that are located in the lower back. This section of the back is called the lumbar region. Because these vertebrae are so large and carry the biggest load of the back, they are sometimes fractured. A lumbar compression fracture is the fracturing of lumbar vertebrae that causes the vertebrae to compress or flatten down.

Usually, in a healthy individual, it takes a traumatic event to cause a lumbar compression fracture. A serious motor vehicle accident or a fall can cause this type of lower back injury. In most cases, this type of fracture can heal on its own in about eight weeks.

A fracture in the lumbar area can cause severe low back pain. This is usually the only symptom, unless the fracture is so bad that it compresses the spinal cord or the nerves around the spinal cord. This type of injury may require immediate spinal surgery to prevent permanent damage to the spinal cord.

Post-menopausal women who have osteoporosis can experience lumbar compression fractures. Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease of the bones that makes them very thin and brittle. A fracture can occur from daily activities such as bending or lifting. It does not take much force for a woman with osteoporosis to experience a lower back fracture.

Common treatment of lumbar compression fractures in a woman with osteoporosis is usually aimed at prevention. A doctor may prescribe medications to alleviate the pain. The doctor may also prescribe calcium supplements to try to strengthen the bones. An exercise or physical therapy program may prove to be beneficial.

If the compression fracture is causing significant pain, or if it appears to be worsening, a procedure called a vertebralplasty may be performed. This is a fairly new non-surgical procedure that can be done on an outpatient basis. This procedure is performed by a specially trained radiologist. During the procedure, a needle is inserted into the back and a special cement is injected into the fractured vertebra. The cement is thought to add stability to the vertebra and aid in pain relief.

Treatment that can be performed at home to help with the pain from a lumbar compression fracture includes applying ice to the lower back and taking over- the-counter, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications. It is important to rest the lower back as much as possible. In certain situations, a back brace may be worn until the compression fracture is healed.

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Discussion Comments
By anon204863 — On Aug 10, 2011

I have been diagnosed with a compression fracture. My provider does seem too critical about this. He tells me to swim. Is this normal activity for this type of injury? I plan on getting a second opinion.

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