When your back hurts, you probably assume that you’ve strained a muscle or maybe slipped a disc. But sometimes back pain is caused by compressed, fractured vertebrae. The vertebrae are the drum-shaped bones that protect your spinal cord and allow you to move your back. Untreated compression fractures get worse and could take inches off your height or deform your spine.
Louis J. Raso, MD, PA, is a pain-management specialist who diagnoses and treats back pain at his office in Jupiter, Florida. Here, he shares some of the most common signs and symptoms of compression fractures, so you get the treatment you need to keep your spine healthy and your movements pain-free.
If you have osteoporosis, your vertebrae lose minerals and get weaker over time, which makes them susceptible to fractures. When your bones are brittle and weak, you could develop a compression fracture when performing a simple task, such as getting out of bed or picking something off the floor.
Only a third of women and men with osteoporosis-related compression fractures have back pain. However, when cracks develop in one of the 24 vertebrae that make up the main part of your backbone, the vertebra collapses into a wedge shape, changing the length and shape of your spine.
Dr. Raso may recommend regular dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans if you have osteoporosis. A DXA scan not only measures how dense your bones are but also identifies symptomless hairline fractures in the spine and other areas. You should also have a DXA scan if you:
Dr. Raso advises that you get follow-up DXA scans every two years after your first scan, to monitor bone loss and identify any compression fractures.
Osteoporosis isn’t the only condition that causes your spine to degenerate and fracture. If you had cancer in the spine, were in a car accident, or suffered a fall or other trauma, you may have vertebral compression fractures. Getting shorter is a hallmark of compression fractures in your vertebrae. So is having trouble bending over or twisting, whether or not the stiffness and immobility are accompanied by pain.
Once your vertebral bones have weakened due to mineral loss or trauma, it doesn’t take much to fracture them. If you have back pain but can’t remember doing anything that would account for your discomfort and limited mobility, Dr. Raso recommends you get evaluated for compression fractures.
As with other conditions that cause back pain, compression fractures tend to be located in your middle and lower back. Some characteristics of pain related to compression fractures include:
Back pain that gradually subsides without treatment over the course of four weeks and then disappears after three months is another sign of compression fractures.
If you have osteoporosis, back pain, or any of the symptoms or risk factors for compression fractures, Dr. Raso takes X-ray and other types of images of your spine. He also manually taps along your backbone to identify areas of soft-tissue pain.
He may treat mild compression fractures with pain medication alone. For severe fractures, he may first perform a minimally invasive procedure called kyphoplasty, in which he inserts and inflates a balloon in the fracture, and then expands it to push the bone pieces back into a healthier position. He then fills the space with a special cement called polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) to keep the bone strong and stable.
Don’t suffer from compression-fracture-related back pain or ignore your risk for compression fractures any longer. Get diagnosis and treatment by contacting our office.