Stress vs. Compression Fractures: Understanding the Difference

Stress vs. Compression Fractures: Understanding the Difference

When it comes to fractures, there are many ways to describe a broken bone. You can refer to the bone that is broken (e.g., broken wrist or a broken foot) or you can refer to the type of break. Compression fracture, stress fracture, complex fracture, and compound fracture are just a few of the many types of fractures. Our orthopedic team here at Preva Surgicare - Surgery Center Of The Woodlands can treat a variety of broken bones.

In this article, we take a closer look at two types of fractures: stress fractures and compression fractures.

Understanding compression fractures

Compression fractures refer to a type of fracture in the vertebrae in your back. This type of fracture is especially common in those with underlying medical conditions such as osteoporosis or bone cancer. Compression fractures occur when the vertebrae absorb too much pressure, causing the vertebrae to fracture. If the vertebrae collapse, it can put pressure on your nerves, adding to your discomfort.

When compression fractures start to develop, you may not experience symptoms, but later symptoms may include pain (especially when standing), a decrease in your height, kyphosis, and numbness or tingling. However, if the compression fracture happens quickly, you may experience sudden and intense pain.

Physical therapy and medication can help relieve pain. Spinal fusion is sometimes used to treat compression fractures to eliminate motion between two vertebrae, relieve pain, and restore spinal stability.

Understanding stress fractures

A stress fracture is a common overuse injury and impacts many athletes, especially runners, tennis players, and gymnasts. Stress fractures happen when too much stress is put on the bone itself. This can happen when your muscles become fatigued after strenuous use. Fatigued muscles lose the ability to help absorb the shock (pressure) of your foot hitting the ground. This causes additional stress to your bone, causing small cracks in your bone ㅡ a stress fracture. 

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, most stress fractures occur in weight-bearing bones, such as your foot and leg. More than half of all stress fractures occur in the lower leg alone.

The best treatment for stress fractures is rest and avoiding repetitive, pain-causing activity for 6-8 weeks. You can reduce your risk of developing a stress fracture by easing into new training routines, cross-training (and altering high-intensity activity with lower intensity activity), and always wearing the proper footwear for your designated activity. 

Diagnosing fractures

Different types of fractures require different treatments, but before you begin any treatment plan, the right diagnosis is key to a great treatment plan. Fractures can be diagnosed with imaging scans, including X-rays, CT scans, and/or MRIs. Because stress fractures can be so microscopic, a regular X-ray may not be able to detect a stress fracture in its early stage. MRIs are the most sensitive imaging tool for detecting stress fractures. 

If you suspect your back pain is related to a compression fracture or your leg pain is related to a stress fracture, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You can schedule your appointment by calling our The Woodlands, Texas office at 281-377-3706. You can also request an appointment via our online scheduling tool.

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