Are you a post-menopausal female who has developed back pain that gets worse when you twist to the side or bend your back to sit up? Maybe you've also noticed that you're getting a bit shorter or that your back is developing a bit of a curve. Chances are, you're suffering from spinal compression fractures. Here's a closer look at this condition, what causes it, and what you should do about it.
What are spinal compression fractures?
These are small micro-fractures that occur in your vertebrae -- the bones that comprise your spinal column. In the worst cases, the vertebra nearly collapses. This leads to the pain you're experiencing and also causes you to grow shorter since your vertebrae become "squished" as they fracture.
What causes spinal compression fractures?
These fractures really only occur in bone that has been made soft and weak by osteoporosis. This is why they're more common in post-menopausal women; these women are often affected by osteoporosis. Once the bone has weakened to a certain extent, it can no longer withstand the pressure put in it by the rest of the vertebrae, and it begins to crack under this pressure.
Osteoporosis is brought on, largely, by the hormonal changes that occur during menopause. A lack of estrogen causes the body to begin leeching calcium from the bones, weakening them over time. A diet low in calcium, low weight, and smoking can all increase a woman's risk of osteoporosis -- and the spinal compression fractures it often leads to.
What are the consequences of spinal compression fractures?
In addition to causing pain, these fractures also lead to bowing of the spine, which puts a lot of strain on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments through the core of your body. You'll have a harder time standing up, sitting down, and bending at the waist. You're likely to find tasks like lifting a bag of groceries or making the bed more difficult.
What's even more dangerous than the consequences of spinal compression fractures is what their presence indicates: your bones are weak. If the bones in your spine are becoming soft and brittle, then the bones in your hips and pelvis likely are becoming brittle as well. This puts you at an increased risk of a hip fracture if you fall. A hip fracture often requires a hip replacement, which is associated with a long and painful recovery process.
What should you do about spinal compression fractures?
If you think you might be developing spinal compression fractures, speak to a doctor immediately, such as those at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates. They will likely want to do a bone scan to assess your bone density and also take some x-rays to evaluate the severity of your fractures.
If you are, indeed, diagnosed with spinal compression fractures, your treatment will likely revolve around increasing the density of your bone to prevent any further fractures and damage. You may be prescribed a medication to reduce the rate at which your body breaks down bone. Calcium and magnesium supplements, along with a modified diet, may also be recommended. Estrogen replacement therapy may also be prescribed, especially if you've only recently gone through menopause.
Depending on the overall severity of your osteoporosis, your doctor may also recommend limiting your physical activity to prevent additional fractures -- both of your spine and of your hips. You may be asked to use a walker when walking to prevent falls or to stick to low-impact exercises like swimming to reduce the pressure on your spine.
If you think you may have a spinal compression fracture, don't hesitate to seek medical treatment. This is often an indicator of a larger issue -- osteoporosis -- which must be dealt with to avoid potentially deadly consequences like a hip fracture.