A sacral stress fracture is a small break in the sacrum. The sacrum is a large triangular bone at base of the spine. The sacrum connects to the pelvis.
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Sacral stress fractures are most common in young athletes and older women with osteoporosis . Other factors that may increase the chance of a sacral stress fracture include:
- Certain diseases or conditions that result in bone or mineral loss, such as abnormal or absent menstrual cycles
- Having gone through menopause
- Adolescents with incomplete bone growth
- Playing certain sports that may result in collisions or falls, such as gymnastics, football, or other high-impact sports
- Long-distance running
- Weight-bearing activities, such as weight lifting or military training
- Radiation therapy
- History of Paget disease , hyperparathyroidism , osteopenia, or rheumatoid arthritis
The most common symptom of a sacral stress fracture is low back pain. It is important to report any unexplained lower back pain. Prompt treatment can prevent the injury from causing further problems.
Other symptoms may include:
- Pain in hip or pelvis
- Pain in buttocks or groin
- Increase in pain during exercise
- Lower back tenderness
- Swelling at lower back
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a spine specialist or a surgeon who specializes in bone problems.
Imaging tests evaluate your bones and other structures. These may include:
In general, treatment depends on the cause and severity.
Treatment options for a sacral stress fracture include:
Extra support may be needed to protect, support, and keep the back in place while it heals. Supportive steps may include a corset or brace.
Fractures due to osteoporosis are treated with partial weight bearing. A cane or other device will be used for this.
Prescription and over-the-counter medications may be advised to reduce inflammation and pain.
People with osteoporosis may be advised to take medications that will increase bone density and reduce the risk of another fracture.
Rest and Recovery
Fractures caused by physical stress need rest, but complete rest is rarely required. Ice may be recommended to help with discomfort and swelling. Gentle massage and heat may also be used to relieve pain.
Physical therapy or rehabilitation can help to strengthen the area.
There are some treatments that are not invasive that may help reduce healing time by stimulating bone growth. These treatments include:
- Electrical stimulation —Electrical and magnetic impulses stimulate enzymes to increase bone cell formation.
- Extracorporeal shock wave therapy —High-energy shock waves are passed through body tissues. The waves stimulate growth factors to increase bone cell formation.
- Vertebroplasty —Small amounts of bone cement are injected into fracture lines guided by CT scan. It is not known what the long-term side effects of the cement are. Because of this, vertebroplasty is used on a limited basis.
If other treatment does not work, surgery may be required. Surgery is generally indicated if the break is unstable, there are nerve problems, or the sacrum is not properly aligned. Bones are reconnected and held in place with screws or a plate.
To help reduce your chance of a sacral stress fracture, take these steps:
- Make gradual changes in intensity when exercising.
- Use proper equipment and technique when playing sports.
- Talk to your doctor about how to prevent osteoporosis.
To help reduce falling hazards at work and home, take these steps:
- Clean spills and slippery areas right away.
- Remove tripping hazards such as loose cords, rugs, and clutter.
- Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower.
- Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower or tub.
- Put in handrails on both sides of stairways.
- Walk only in well-lit rooms, stairs, and halls.
- Keep flashlights on hand in case of a power outage.
The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine http://www.sportsmed.org
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://www.orthoinfo.org
Canadian Orthopaedic Association http://www.coa-aco.org
The University of British Columbia Department of Orthopaedics http://orthopaedics.med.ubc.ca
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- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
- Review Date: 09/2018
- Update Date: 09/30/2013