Fracturing your spine sounds horrible, but it’s more common (and not as frightening) than you might think. It’s estimated that spinal fractures occur 1.5 million times yearly in the United States — and those are just the ones that get reported. Unfortunately, many chalk what’s a fracture up to some other cause of back pain.
So what’s breaking everyone’s backs? It’s possible to fracture your spine if you sustain an injury, but soft, weak bones are usually the main culprit.
As you get older or if you have a bone condition called osteoporosis, the bones in your spine are no longer strong enough to hold you up and support you as you move. That means the slightest movement (coughing or sneezing) could cause a crack.
What’s worse, you could have multiple fractures throughout your spine, which significantly threatens the strength and shape of your spine. The back part of your vertebra is much stronger than the front, so the front part of the bone is much more susceptible. Develop enough fractures, and your bones collapse, giving you a hunched-over posture and possibly taking a few inches off your height.
Because spinal fractures are often a matter of when not if, it’s important to know your treatment options. We tackle spinal fractures in one of two ways: kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty. Both procedures involve using special bone cement to seal your fractures.
Here, Dr. Raul Lopez and our team at the West Texas Pain Institute in El Paso, Texas, give you a closer look at how they work.
During a vertebroplasty, Dr. Lopez carefully inserts a needle into your fractured bone with the help of a special X-ray called fluoroscopy. Then, he injects PMMA, which is a bone cement that, once it hardens, strengthens and supports your vertebra.
Vertebroplasties are minimally invasive and well-tolerated, but we administer a local anesthetic to keep you completely comfortable and relaxed.
Kyphoplasties are almost exactly the same as vertebroplasties, but they include an extra step. During kyphoplasty, we insert and inflate a small balloon inside your vertebra before injecting the bone cement. This creates more space for the cement and allows us to restore your vertebra’s shape.
What happens after my procedure?
After your procedure, you rest in our office for a few hours so we can monitor your symptoms as the anesthesia wears off. You’ll need a trusted friend or family member to drive you home, where you should rest for a day or two. Many of our patients notice pain relief within 24-48 hours.
Any side effects you experience should be mild and easily managed with conservative care. We send you home with detailed, customized aftercare instructions to ensure you recover quickly and fully.
Can I prevent spinal fractures?
One of the best things you can do to prevent spinal fractures from happening in the future is to understand your risk. The two groups of people who are most at risk are those with osteoporosis and those with cancer that has spread to their bones (sometimes spinal fractures are one of the first signs of cancer).
The vast majority of spinal fractures stem from osteoporosis. You have a greater chance of developing this disease if you:
- Are over 50 years old
- Are a woman
- Go through menopause early (before 50 years old)
We’d like to note that osteoporosis and the spinal fractures that follow can happen without you even realizing it, so you should never let back pain go unchecked, especially if you’re at a higher risk.
Beyond keeping tabs on your health, you can take steps to keep spinal fractures at bay by:
- Taking calcium supplements
- Increasing your intake of vitamin D
- Quitting smoking
- Preventing falls
- Doing weight-bearing and strength-building exercises
Medications to slow or halt osteoporosis can also go a long way. Know that no matter how diligent you are, there’s no guarantee that you’ll never fracture your spine. Often, the best you can do is mitigate your risk and get treatment as soon as possible when the worst happens.
Stop worrying about spinal fractures and start taking steps towards lasting relief today. You can schedule an appointment with our specialist online or over the phone.