Most spinal stress fractures occur within the lower (lumbar) back area, since this is one of the most mobile and vulnerable parts of the body. If you do have a lower back stress fracture—referred to as spondylolysis if spinal bones (vertebrae) are affected—you may have few or no symptoms. However, some fractures produce severe or disruptive pain, often triggered by certain movements. After a lower back stress fracture has been properly diagnosed, here’s what you can expect.
Rest and Protection
You’ll likely be advised to rest, since it can take several weeks for a lumbar stress fracture to heal, but this doesn’t mean complete inactivity. Your spine-supporting muscles still need stimulation to remain strong and healthy. Ideally, you should combine rest with proper protection to minimize stress on the affected part of your lower spine. Accomplish this goal by:
- Modifying your activities so you’re not overstressing your lower back
- Avoiding contact sports and other high-impact forms of activity or exercise such as running, jogging, and jumping
- Not moving heavy objects until your doctor gives the okay to do so—and even then, you should still be careful so you don’t reinjure your spine
Cold in the form of an ice pack of cooling gel applied to the affected area reduces inflammation. After a few days of cold applications, switch to heat applications with heating gel or a heating pad to increase circulation and blood flow. Heat is beneficial because it promotes tissue healing. Make sure you use a barrier between the heat/cold source and your skin, and limit applications to about 20 minutes at a time.
You can also expect your doctor to recommend medication if you have a lower back stress fracture. In addition to pain meds, your doctor or Los Angeles spine surgeon may advise you to take over-the-counter NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). These drugs minimize discomfort and keep swelling down in the affected area.
The purpose of bracing is to limit movement in the affected area so a stress fracture can properly heal. This option is rarely used today and is only meant to be done for a short time.
One of the most effective ways to encourage bone healing is with a comprehensive physical therapy or rehab program, which can also be beneficial because physical therapy and rehab plans are based on individual abilities and goals. A physical therapist, personal trainer, or rehab specialist may recommend a pain management and recovery plan for a lower back stress fracture that includes:
- Therapeutic exercises
- Postural exercises to encourage correct posture so you’re not overstressing your healing lower back
- Stretches targeting hamstrings, glutes, and large extensor muscles that help you bend to increase range of motion and flexibility
- Gentle core-strengthening exercises to stimulate abdominal and lower back muscles and other soft tissues that directly or indirectly support your spine
- Massage therapy or chiropractic manipulation to maintain or restore spinal alignment
The good news is most people respond well to rest and other conservative treatments for lower back stress fractures. In rare instances, surgery may be necessary if a fracture affecting the lumbar spine is causing severe discomfort, producing worsening symptoms, or not healing properly. Options include a decompressive laminectomy to reduce inflammation and irritation or stabilizing the affected part of the backbone with spinal fusion surgery. Los Angeles patients who have either of these procedures are usually back home the same day or within a day or two.
If you suspect you may have a lumbar stress fracture or you have questions or concerns about your spinal health, the industry-leading professionals at The Spine Institute are here to help. Our spine experts are pioneers in every aspect of spine care, including prevention, non-surgical treatment, and state-of-the-art surgical techniques. Call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.