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Breaking down spinal fractures: December 10, 2013

With its elegant shape and elaborate engineering, there’s a lot that can go wrong with our spine. For many people the root of their severe back pain is a spinal fracture.

“Generally it’s what we consider a compression fracture. You think of maybe a piece of Styrofoam and you press down on it; that’s what happens to the bone,” says Dr. Paul Fuchs, orthopedic spine surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Age takes a toll on your bones, making them weaker and more brittle, especially if you have osteoporosis. The effort it takes to keep your body erect can be enough to cause a fracture.

“Maybe they sit down vigorously on a sofa, or step off of a curb, maybe they didn’t see the bottom of a step and they can sustain a fracture. Once they develop this fracture it’s difficult to do daily activities, it’s difficult to get out of bed, it’s difficult to get in to bed, bathing is difficult, it’s just difficult to move around because of the fracture,” says Dr. Fuchs.

Women over 50 are at greatest risk for spine fractures. By age 80, about 40% of women have experienced them, although men get them too. Many times they won’t realize what happened and may mistake it for muscular pain.

“When someone walks in with more of a common low back pain, you might classify them as being sore. When someone walks in with a spinal fracture walks in, they walk in with obvious pain, obvious difficulty standing, obvious difficulty sitting,” says Dr. Fuchs.

Other symptoms are sudden onset, loss of height or a noticeable curvature of the spine. Doctors can use x-ray or a CT scan to determine the severity and course of action. Fractures can heal on their own, but people may benefit from intervention.

“If the patient’s quality of life is poor because of the pain associated with the fracture, there are different micro-surgical, minimally invasive ways we could stabilize the spinal fracture,” says Dr. Fuchs.

Keeping an eye on your bone health and taking back pain seriously can keep you upright and moving.