On Mother’s Day, we recognize how much we love our moms and appreciate everything they do for us. While Mom may joke about “back breaking work” or “pain-in-the-neck kids,” she may be quietly suffering with very real neck or back pain. Now is the perfect time to shine the spotlight on Mom and better understand what might be causing her discomfort. In today’s blog post we discuss the symptoms and treatment options for five spine conditions that affect women more often than men.
5 Spine Conditions that Affect Women
For many women, neck or back pain can come on suddenly following over exertion, or may have lingered for years and been accepted as part of the aging process. In reality, neck or back pain that lingers longer than 4 to 6 weeks should be taken seriously. This Mother’s Day (May 13th), you should take stock of how you’re doing. Check-in with the important women in your life, bring some flowers, and be on the lookout for the following spine conditions that affect women more than men:
Coccydynia is a condition caused by inflammation of the tailbone. Symptoms of coccydynia include localized pain and tenderness around the tailbone. It’s an aching pain that doesn’t really go to the extremities, but instead, stays in the buttocks and can get worse when sitting. Like other spinal conditions caused by inflammation, treatment options focus on resolving the inflammation that irritates nerve endings.
Coccydynia often improves over time, so sitting less, using a specially-designed coccyx cushion, applying heat and cold packs, and taking anti-inflammatory painkillers may do the trick. If the pain persists, physical therapy and steroid injections may added to the treatment regimen. Finally, in more serious cases, a partial coccygectomy (removing a part of the tailbone) may be required to resolve the condition.
Vertebral Compression Fractures
Vertebral compression fractures are small cracks in the bones of the spine. Vertebral compression fractures or “wedge fractures” usually occur in the front of the vertebra, collapsing the front section of the bony structure creating a wedge-shaped vertebra. Compression fractures may be caused by an accident, but are often the result of osteoporosis, a type of bone thinning disease that most often affects older women, particularly those who are past menopause. These fractures can start slowly and worsen as time goes on.
Symptoms of vertebral compression fractures include difficulty bending your body and pain that intensifies with walking or standing. Treatment for vertebral compression fractures start with rest, pain medication, heat and ice packs. When surgery is required, the two most common minimally invasive procedures are vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty.
Degenerative Spondylolisthesis is a condition where one vertebrae slips forward, over the one below it. When a vertebrae slips out of alignment, it can compress the nerves in the spinal canal or the nerves in the open spaces on the sides of the vertebrae (foramen) and cause back pain. Lower bone density and osteoarthritis make women three times more likely than men to suffer from degenerative spondylolisthesis. In some cases, there are no symptoms at all. Severe spondylolisthesis can affect a person’s posture causing them to lean forward or walk with a waddle. Left untreated, serious nerve damage can cause a loss of bladder or bowel control.
Rest, anti-inflammatory medications, back brace and physical therapy may provide relief. If not, you may be a candidate for a minimally invasive spine surgery (ALIF, PLIF or DLIF) to relieve the pressure on nerves or to stabilize the spine.
Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction is strain, inflammation, or disease of the sacroiliac joint. The two sacroiliac joints are located on each side of the spine between the upper body and pelvis. These joints support the weight of the upper body when standing or walking. Jeremy R. James, MD, a board certified, fellowship trained spine specialist says one of the reasons women are more likely to suffer from sacroiliac joint dysfunction is because women’s ligaments are more lax, especially those who are middle aged or have had pregnancies.
Symptoms of sacroiliac joint dysfunction are lower back pain, numbness/tingling/weakness of lower extremities, or pain in the pelvis, buttocks, hips, or groin. Your legs may also feel weak, and it may be difficult to sleep or sit because of the pain.
While no single approach works for everyone, a combination of nonsurgical treatments (anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, stretching and steroid injections) are usually necessary for effective pain relief of sacroiliac joint dysfunction.
Spinal osteoarthritis is a breakdown of the cartilage of the joints and discs in the neck and lower back. The cartilage wearing away causes swelling, pain and stiffness in the neck or back. Patients may also experience weak or numb legs or arms as the condition impacts the spinal nerves or spinal cord. Fluctuating levels of hormones, especially following menopause is believed to be a key reason why women suffer this condition more often than men.
While most cases of spinal osteoarthritis never require surgery, patients who have exhausted conservative treatments may be candidates for surgery. The most common minimally invasive procedures for severe spine osteoarthritis are vertebral fusions and laminectomies.
When to See a Specialist
Knowing if neck or back pain is a simple strain or a more serious spinal condition can be tricky. However, there are a few key indications that your pain may require specialized treatment. Don’t let Mom delay seeing a specialist for her neck or back pain. Ignoring the early warning signs of a spinal condition can result in the condition getting worse.
Dr. James says that not treating back pain will ultimately lead to weakness and the longer it goes on, the longer recovery can take. In some cases, permanent damage can occur. If you or someone you know is suffering from one of the spine conditions that affect women, contact DISC of Louisiana today to schedule an evaluation with one of our board certified, fellowship trained spine specialists.
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