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Spine Fractures More Common Than Hip: June 12, 2013

“I couldn’t imagine what in the world happened,” says Dorothy Eastwood.

The first time Eastwood cracked her spine she was watering a houseplant.

“All I did was reach up and I had felt something in my back something grab the base of my spine,” says Eastwood.

The second time, she had a better feel for what was happening.

“I think I was brushing my teeth or something made a slight turn like this and I thought ‘uh oh, this feels familiar’,” says Eastwood.

Spinal fractures are on the rise. They now double the number of hip fractures. The fueling factor is osteoporosis. Even a low velocity injury can make a big impact.

“It’s generally a population in their 60s, 70s, 80s even 90s. Essentially the bone becomes weakened and with trivial injuries: lifting some groceries, stepping off of a curb, sitting down vigorously in a chair, they might sustain an osteoporotic fracture,” says Dr. Paul Fuchs, orthopedic spine surgeon on the Lee Memorial Health System medical staff.

In years past patients would likely be treated with medicine, rest or bracing. 

“If they tend not to move around that could potentially cause other problems. Potentially blood clots in the legs, poor pulmonary function because they’re having to lie down, they can have pneumonia, urinary infection,” says Dr. Fuchs.

A newer procedure, called balloon kyphoplasty uses compression to fix the fracture. Doctors insert a special needle, which allows them to inflate a balloon in the crack. As the balloon inflates, it resets the bone. It’s then replaced with cement, which forms an internal cast.

“It takes 4-5 minutes for that cement to harden and once it hardens the fracture is essentially healed,” says Dr. Fuchs.

It provided the break in pain Eastwood needed.

“I’m feeling wonderful,” says Eastwood.

But the best solution, is to keep bones strong, side-stepping unfortunate twists of fate.