A spinal compression fracture can rear its ugly head at anytime, to anyone, but the trick is knowing when you are dealing with a minor back ache from over-activity or stress and when you potentially have a spinal compression fracture.
Besides all types of back pain, a very important symptom related to this type of injury is deformity of the spine. I'm sure you have heard of the animated movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame?” Well, he clearly had a severe case of spinal compression fractures, because that is exactly what the condition can do when left untreated. The medical terminology for this is kyphosis. This happens after multiple compression fractures because the fractures generally occur in the front part of the vertebrae because the back part of the bone is stronger. So, when the fracture chips away at the bone, the front part of the vertebrae shortens and the back of the bone stays in tact, causing the spine to hunch.
So, to avoid looking like a character from a fabulous animated movie, let’s discuss what I would call the three important red flags for spinal compression fractures. First and foremost, you need to see a doctor immediately if you are in a high-risk category for this condition. Secondly, you need to see a doctor immediately if you have worsening or sudden severe back pain, or something in your spine is more achy than normal. Thirdly, and more alarming, if you are experiencing any stomach problems, breathing complications or hip pain you could be facing multiple compression fractures.
If you are diagnosed with a spinal compression fracture, you have a few nonsurgical options. Generally speaking, allowing a compression fracture to heal naturally, you are looking at around a three month recovery. Although that time frame may seem long, the pain normally subsides significantly in days or up to a few weeks. Natural, nonsurgical recovery would include bed rest, a back brace to stabilize the spine and minimal to moderate physical activity to keep your body active.
When nonsurgical treatment isn’t doing the trick or you have passed the point of no return, surgery may be your only glimmer of hope, but fortunately, your odds of success are high. There are three types of surgery to treat a compression fracture which include vertebroplasty, kyphoplasty and spinal fusion surgery.
Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty are a good choice because they are minimally invasive and aim to stabilize the spine with a cement-like glue. Vertebroplasty is generally done to minimize pain and stabilize the fracture, why kyphoplasty does all that, plus corrects bone deformities for those suffering from the “hunchback.”
Spinal fusion surgery is a bit more complicated and invasive. The general idea when performing this is to fuse the vertebrae together to limit motion and keep them in place until the bones can correctly grow back together. It involves metal plates, screws and rods, which would scare even the terminator away, but it gets the job done and allows your spine the chance to make a good recovery.
All in all, a spinal compression fracture is not something to twiddle your thumbs over. Even the slightest chronic back pain can really be screaming for help. It's important to understand the pain you are dealing with and how much you are or should be willing to tolerate.