Your spinal column is quite literally what holds your body together, and when any part of it gets compromised, it can seriously affect your health. One of the most painful and problematic issues you can run into with your spine health is a spinal compression fracture.
These minor breakages of the vertebrae can happen in various ways, such as osteoporosis and exercise injury. Unfortunately, this type of injury is quite common. The medical estimation is that 1.5 million spinal compression fractures occur each year in the U.S.
Signs of a Spinal Compression Fracture
You might expect a spinal compression fracture to be sudden and extremely painful, but this kind of injury usually happens gradually. The first signs are most likely to be back pain caused by tiny cracks in the bone. When the fracturing spreads, that’s when the entire vertebra eventually collapses.
Back pain, of course, can stem from several other conditions. So here are a few of the other symptoms you can watch for to understand if you’re possibly dealing with a spinal compression fracture:
- Hip pain
- Worsening hip or back pain when you walk or stand
- Having trouble when you try to bend or twist at the waist
- Losing inches in height
- A curved or stooped shape in your spine
- Having issues with digestion, such as constipation or lessened appetite
- Having difficulty breathing
Do any of these criteria resonate with you? If so, a doctor or orthopedic professional who specializes in back pain should evaluate you immediatly. Once the evaluation is complete, your doctor will be able to start walking you through your treatment options.
Treating Your Spinal Compression Fracture
When you have a spinal compression fracture, your priorities should be easing your pain, healing the fracture, and treating the causes of your weakened vertebrae.
Multiple spinal compression fracture treatments can help you meet these goals. It’s probable that you won’t need surgery. Spinal compression fractures tend to heal on their own in about three months. During the healing process, there are a few home treatments that your doctor may recommend, including:
- Pain medication. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can give you quick relief. If your pain is harder to manage, your doctor might prescribe stronger to help you get through the healing process. Sometimes doctors also suggest the hormone calcitonin, as studies have shown it can help ease more acute spinal compression fracture pain.
- Back bracing. Wearing a back brace doesn’t directly correct a spinal fracture, but it can help facilitate your injured vertebrae’s healing. That’s because it works a lot like a cast on a broken arm. Its rigid frame takes the pressure off of the inflamed bone and limits your range of motion, meaning a significant reduction of pain in your day-to-day operation.
- Activity modifications. Bed rest may seem like it’d help, and it can certainly reduce your pain levels, but it can also lead to further bone loss or even osteoporosis. That could mean future spinal compression fractures. Your doctor will more likely suggest modifying what you do daily and how you do it, so you can keep your whole body strong while you heal.
- Physical therapy. Talk to your doctor about whether you’re ready to take on a course of physical therapy to get your range of motion back. Training can include adding weight-bearing exercise, which is proven to strengthen bones, or doing a study of balance-focused activities like yoga or tai chi.
If your situation is more serious and your pain persists despite these measures, it could mean that you do need surgical intervention. When it comes to a spinal fracture, there are, again, several kinds of treatment options. Your doctor may suggest one of the following:
- Vertebroplasty is a procedure that helps both relieve pain from the fracture and stabilize it. Your doctor will start by inserting a needle into the damaged vertebrae, and then inject a bone cement mixture into the fracture, which should harden in about 10 minutes. You’ll get to go home either the same day or after a single night’s hospital stay.
- Kyphoplasty is a procedure more focused on correcting the bone deformity and relieving the pain from the fracture. Your doctor will insert a tube through a half-inch cut into the damaged vertebrae and then guide a thin catheter tube into it. A balloon attached to the tube will inflate to create a cavity where your doctor will surgically inject liquid bone cement that hardens in about 10 minutes.
- Spinal fusion surgery is more of a last-resort measure — it involves, as the name suggests, connecting two or more vertebrae and holding them together in the proper position so they are kept from moving until they ultimately fuse. Your doctor will place metal screws attached to metal plates or rods into a small bone tube and then insert it into your vertebrae. The rods or plates are then bolted together at the back of your spine.
Surgery, and spinal fusion surgery, in particular, is mainly recommended if your bone is more than 50% compressed in height or if your pain is incredibly severe. Talking to your doctor or orthopedic specialist is the best way to figure out how to treat a spinal compression fracture in your situation.
Find Complete Relief for Your Back Pain
If you’re not sure whether you’re dealing with a spinal compression fracture, getting a complete evaluation with a specialist is the first step you want to take. When you have the whole picture of your spinal health, you can have more confidence in whatever next steps you choose to take.
At Preferred Injury Physicians, we are committed to helping our patients control their spinal health and get their lives back. Get in touch today for your complete consultation — we’ll take an entire medical history and more than likely treat you on the same day.
To schedule an appointment now, you can contact us online, or give us a call at (855) 944-1747.