If you slip and fall on your way to the mailbox or get into a serious car collision, it’s easy to understand the effect these traumatic events can have on your spine. The bones in your back, called vertebrae, are just as susceptible to fractures as any other bone in your body.
But when they break for no apparent reason, it can be confusing and alarming, to say the least.
At West Texas Pain Institute in El Paso, Texas, Dr. Raul Lopez and our team specialize in conditions that cause chronic back pain, including those that mysteriously break your vertebrae. Here, we take a closer look at what may be causing those spinal bone fractures and what you can do about it.
Common causes of spinal fractures
As we mentioned, trauma can easily fracture any of the vertebrae in your spine. A high-velocity auto accident, a collision between two athletes in a competitive game, or a fall from a great height can exert enough force to crack or crush your vertebrae.
But there are also some less-obvious culprits that can affect your spine.
Up until you’re about 20-25 years old, your bone tissue constantly renews itself — old bone breaks down and new bone replaces it, keeping your bones healthy and strong.
Adequate calcium and vitamin D intake throughout your life, along with regular weight-bearing exercise, promote maximum bone density, and most people reach their peak around age 30.
About this time, your bone renewal process slows down and you begin to lose bone cells faster than you can replace them. If you have enough bone “in the bank,” so to speak, you’ll likely live the rest of your life with no problems in this area.
However, if you didn’t build up enough bone mass during your youth, you may develop osteoporosis, a disease that attacks your bones and makes them weak and brittle. Common symptoms of osteoporosis include a hunched posture, loss of height, and bone fractures, particularly in the spine. Osteoporosis is especially common among menopausal women.
Primary tumors in the spine are fairly rare, and they often cause no symptoms at all, at least at first. The first sign of a vertebral tumor may be a fractured vertebra. Over time, the tumor, even if it’s benign, deteriorates the bone tissue and weakens it to the point that it can no longer support you.
A tumor-related spinal fracture can occur suddenly and unexpectedly, and in some cases, it can lead to a spinal collapse that injures your spinal cord.
While primary spinal tumors are relatively rare, secondary spinal tumors are quite common. In fact, up to 70% of breast, prostate, and lung cancers spread to the spine.
When cancer metastasizes from somewhere else and spreads to your spine, it enters your bones and wreaks havoc. Basically, cancer disrupts the function of two types of bone cells: osteoclasts, which break down old bone tissue, and osteoblasts, which build it back up again.
Cancer also leads to the development of lesions on your vertebrae called osteolytic lesions, which weaken your bones and make them susceptible to fractures. And it doesn’t take much force to cause a break — a hardy sneeze or a cough can easily break your weakened vertebrae.
How to treat weak and breaking vertebrae
Regardless of what causes your spinal fractures, the result is the same: pain, hunching, and decreased quality of life.
If you suffer from a weak spine and frequent vertebral fractures, Dr. Lopez can shore up your back with a simple but effective procedure called kyphoplasty.
This outpatient procedure reinforces your weakened vertebrae, repairs the damage, and restores your ability to live an upright, pain-free life.
A local anesthetic is all you need when you undergo kyphoplasty. Dr. Lopez uses fluoroscopy-guided imaging to insert a catheter into your spine near the fracture. Through the catheter, he inserts a tiny balloon that inflates and creates space within your broken bone. Then, he withdraws the balloon and injects a special cement that hardens, repairing your fracture and restoring your vertebral height.
Don’t let vertebral compression fractures keep you from living life on your own terms. Schedule a consultation at West Texas Pain Institute today by calling our friendly staff or requesting an appointment online.