Experiencing a little back pain after your last few workouts? You may have pulled a muscle or just pushed a little too hard during those last few reps; but if the pain doesn't disperse soon, it's time to consider more serious problems. The fact is, although pain is part of life for intense athletes, you can't and shouldn't just push through it, especially if you've been involved in a sports accident. Ignoring spine injuries can result in long-term injuries like spinal compression fractures that can keep you out of the game.
Know the Warning Signs
You should, of course, check in with your doctor if you're experiencing ongoing back pain, but spinal compression fractures often manifest with unusual symptoms, such as chronic hamstring tightness and heel pain. Why does this happen? Since all of the nerves providing signals to your muscles run through your back, irritation and inflammation along the spine can interfere with muscle function. All the stretching in the world won't help this type of hamstring tightness.
The more obvious symptoms of a spinal fracture include back pain that lasts more than a few days, or you may suffer a spinal fracture after a distinct incident, such as that experienced by the Grizzlies' Mike Conley in November when he took a knee to the back during a game. Though many people suffer from back pain, most serious athletes have less pain than the average American because they have greater core strength. Core strength helps you maintain better posture, so anything more than mild muscle soreness should be treated as cause for concern.
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Treating Spinal Fractures
If you do have any type of spinal fracture, such as a spinal compression fracture, you'll likely need surgery to treat it. That will have you sidelined for a period of time, but that's better than a permanent loss of motion and disability.
The most common treatments for spinal fractures are kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty. Both are minimally invasive procedures that relieve the associated pain while helping your spine heal in the appropriate position. Orthopedists perform these surgeries regularly, and they can actually be done with either no incision or a very small one. Your doctor will inject bone cement into cracks in the spine, and it will harden quickly, restabilizing the fractured areas. After kyphoplasty or vertebroplasty, most patients go home on the same day or spend no more than a night in the hospital.
In some cases, you may also treat a spinal fracture with a back brace, stabilizing your back and allowing it to heal naturally; but although this is not a surgical intervention, it will likely inconvenience you and restrict your activity for much longer than surgery. The reality is that a convenient back brace is a useless one and your spine won't heal correctly if you don't commit to wearing it appropriately.
The Dangers of Skipping Treatment
Though all serious athletes find it hard to sit down and rest, even when their pain is significant, failure to treat a spinal fracture can result in reduced mobility and poor balance; and the daily pain may eventually become so severe that it eliminates your ability to be active. In some cases, the spine may also heal incorrectly, resulting in a kind of hump shape, and can impact your organs, compressing them and compromising their function. Untreated fractures also increase the likelihood of future fractures.
Be responsible for your health and stay active if you experience back problems lasting more than a few days. Most of the time, a quick examination or x-ray is all you need to determine whether the pain indicates a strain or something more severe.
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