Fractures are cracks or breaks within a bone. They can result due to disease, overuse, or severe trauma. Spinal fractures are most common in the mid or lower back regions.
Fracture symptoms include:
- Pain which lasts longer than a few weeks
- Discomfort which gets worse with activity
- Pain which disrupts sleep
Fractures which are severe and compromise nerves display symptoms such as:
- Numbness and/or weakness in arms or legs
- Bladder, bowel, and/or genital issues
- Difficulty moving
If you think you have a fracture or have suffered a severe trauma, seek immediate medical advice. Likewise, if you experience any major nerve-related symptoms as described here seek immediate medical advice.
The coccyx is the bony area at the bottom of your spine, and is also referred to as the tailbone. As you probably guessed, coccydynia is pain in this area. Coccydynia is usually the result of a fall. There are cases where it is not linked to a trauma event. Whichever way it has arisen, it causes sitting to be painful. Most people with coccydynia carry around a donut-shaped pillow with them to relieve some of the pain of sitting. Treatments include anti-inflammatory medications or local injections.
This disease reduces bone density, making them weaker and more at risk to fractures. Osteoporosis is far more frequent in women than men. And women tend to be most susceptible in postmenopausal years. The disease can cause fractures in the vertebrae as well as other bones.
Anatomically speaking, the front of a body or body part is referred to as anterior and the back is posterior. Movement is defined as flexion (forward), extension (backward), rotation (twisting), and lateral flexion (side bending).
Compression fractures which occur in the spine due to osteoporosis are often of the flexion (or forward) pattern. The front (anterior) of the vertebrae is where fracture is. The vertebra therefore loses some height as it’s shorter in the front than in the back. The consequent collapse results in a more extreme curve, and can give the back a humped appearance. The bone crumples like a drinks can and pitches forward.
Pain caused by fractures can range from slight to severe. In advanced cases, just basic activities can cause fractures. For instance, lifting a heavy object or even sneezing can cause the vertebra to crack.
Treatments for fractures include pain medications. As soon as the pain is tolerable, patients should aim to walk as much as possible in order to strengthen the bones.
Two practices which help stabilize fractured vertebrae are vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. Vertebroplasty generates stability by injecting bone cement around the fractured area; kyphoplasty works in a similar way but it also restores lost height. You can find more information here.
Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis
Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are two different conditions; however, they often occur together. Spondylolysis is a vertebral stress fracture which occurs due to a birth defect, disease, trauma, or overuse. Athletes who operate in physically demanding sports which involve lots of back bending, for instance, as gymnasts, can be at risk. The continuous impacts in football make those athletes vulnerable to spinal stress fractures, too.
If the vertebra becomes fractured, it can slide out of place; this is medically referred to as spondylolisthesis. There are some kinds of spondylolisthesis which happen without fractures, just as a result of instability. The lower back is most at risk. It may feel like a strain/sprain, but this injury will not recover over time. Sciatica can be caused if the sciatic nerve is pinched when the vertebra slips.
These injuries are often the result of unexpected, tremendous force: car crashes, high-impact and high-risk sports for instance cliff diving or ski falls. Fractures without pain can happen, but the bone is now susceptible, so a less stressful impact can cause further damage.
If someone has just suffered from a severe back or neck injury, they should never be repositioned or moved. The fracture result in permanent damage to the spinal cord, this could lead to paralysis. You should always wait for emergency personnel in these cases.
Traumatic events and genetics are both major factors in disc degeneration. However, the main factor behind this phenomenon is aging. Aging affects all tissues in the body, this includes the intervertebral discs. Discs have two main parts the inner gel-like core and the thicker outer portion (you can find more information here). Both the inner and outer sections can lose moisture and elasticity through time, this lowers their ability to cushion and stabilize intervertebral joints.
As discs deteriorate, they lose height; this begins a cascade. Shorter discs cause the facet joints to alter their position. That results in greater compression in the joint, therefore causing further wear and tear on the cartilage between the bones. As this cartilage deteriorates, bone spurs are generated at the joints. These spurs can narrow the areas for nerves. The nerves can get squashed by this process, that’s yet source of back pain. Every person is different. Some people grow bone spurs and never experience any pain. Others aren’t so lucky.
Lifestyle choices affect the health of our discs as we grow older. Smoking reduces the moisture in the discs. Being inactive causes muscular imbalances, which can negatively alter the discs, too. Studies have shown that gentle exercise including walking and swimming can help the discs hold onto their moisture.
Treatments for disc degeneration include exercise, proper body mechanics, and anti-inflammatory medications.