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What Does a Stress Fracture in the Back Feel Like? Learn the Symptoms

Medical concept art of spine with stress fractures

Stress fractures in the back are a common complaint among athletes and physical workers. Also called an overuse injury, this type of fracture can quickly derail a sports or workplace career. But what is a stress fracture, and how can you tell when it is happening to you?

NU-Spine: The Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery Institute treats spine conditions, including lower back spine conditions, at locations throughout New Jersey. Here, we discuss stress fracture symptoms, causes, treatments, and prevention.

What Causes Stress Fractures?

When most people think of bone fractures, they imagine big dramatic breakages caused by a severe injury. Stress fractures are slightly different. Instead of appearing in a single traumatic event, this fracture type builds up slowly due to repetitive force. They start as tiny cracks in weight-bearing bones. These cracks gradually grow and spread. In time, even small fractures can become serious.

Stress fractures almost always arise from overuse. Any repetitive motion that puts pressure on a bone can result in a stress fracture. This is especially true with activities your body is not used to, or when you do not take time to recover afterward. Common causes of stress fractures include:

  • Heavy physical labor
  • Heavy sports training
  • Starting a new sport or physical activity
  • Suddenly increasing your physical activity level
  • Working or training without proper equipment
  • Working or training on hard surfaces
  • Insufficient rest periods

The spine is one of the least common areas to develop a stress fracture. When one does appear, however, it can be life-changing if left untreated.

Who Is at Risk of Spinal Stress Fractures?

Anybody can develop a stress fracture. However, they are most common in people who perform repetitive physical activities such as a sport or job involving physical labor. Certain health conditions can also increase your risk by weakening the bone or increasing the pressure placed on it. These include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Previous fractures or surgeries
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Obesity
  • Eating disorders

If any of these risk factors apply to you, take caution when engaging in strenuous activity. The appropriate care can reduce the likelihood of stress fractures and injuries, helping you work or train as safely as possible.

Preventing a Stress Fracture

Luckily, in many cases, stress fractures can be prevented. Ensuring safety is often as simple as taking appropriate precautions with physical activity, such as proper warm-ups and using the right equipment. Here are some ways you can protect your body while engaging in physical activity:

  • Stretch before and after periods of physical activity
  • Use the proper form and equipment
  • Increase activity levels gradually
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Never “push through the pain”
  • Let your body rest after physical activity

These precautions are recommended for anybody who engages in strenuous activity, whether for sports, daily workouts, a labor-intensive job, or when carrying heavy boxes on moving day.

Stress Fracture Symptoms

Even when taking the appropriate steps for safe activity, checking your body regularly is important. Stress fractures appear slowly, and their symptoms do not always appear right away. Most cases begin with a tender spot that goes away after rest. Other symptoms may take more time to develop. These are some signs to watch for when checking your body for a stress fracture:

  • Pain that starts or worsens during physical activity
  • Pain that becomes more noticeable when resting
  • Tender zones that hurt when touched
  • Swelling around the painful area

Though symptoms may feel mild at first, the pain will get worse as you continue to damage the bone by pursuing the activity that caused the fracture. This is why it is important to catch problems before they turn into more significant issues. Prompt medical treatment can keep symptoms from worsening and can ensure more positive results after treatment.

When to See a Doctor

The NU-Spine team recommends alerting a spine specialist, like a neurosurgeon, when you notice a problem. When addressed early, most stress fractures can be effectively treated using conservative methods. Rest and physical therapy will allow your bone to heal on its own, while over-the-counter pain medications and alternating heat and cold therapy can help decrease your discomfort.

If the fracture has progressed to a severe degree, or if your symptoms fail to improve with conservative treatments, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery. There are several surgical options for stress fractures, depending on your condition’s location and severity:

Recovery from your stress fracture takes at least a few weeks and may last longer if you require surgery. Be sure to listen to the neurosurgeon’s recommendations for physical activity levels during this time. If you return too soon to the activities that caused your injury, the bone may re-fracture. Following a doctor’s advice is the best way to ensure a successful recovery.

Treatment for Stress Fractures at NU-Spine

If you’re suffering from stress fracture symptoms, don’t wait to transform your life with a touch of care. Experience the cutting edge in minimally invasive spine treatments. Don’t wait for relief; schedule your appointment with the spine experts at NU-Spine: The Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery Institute today and take the first step toward a pain-free future. Contact us today for a consultation, or to visit one of our locations in Paramus, Woodbridge, Toms River, Jersey City, or Holmdel, NJ.

Start Your Path to Relief: Contact Us Today!
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Woodbridge Township,
NJ 07095

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Toms River, NJ 08753

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