Red Sox pitcher develops spinal stress fracture

Aug 8 2011
Comcast SportsNet recently reported that Boston pitcher Clay Buchholz may be unable to finish the season. An MRI revealed a stress fracture in his lower back to be the cause of his persistent back pain and discomfort.

It was previously revealed that he had lower back strain, and Buchholz told reporters on July 25 that he felt better after stretching and some rest, but the soreness returned the next day, leading to the MRI. Before then, the pain was believed to be the result of inflammation.

The news source notes that lower back stress fractures are less common in pitchers than in other positions. These types of injuries are defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as small breaks in a bone, generally resulting from repeated or prolonged force. According to the NIH, stress fractures in vertebrae are commonly caused by osteoporosis, a condition in which bones are weakened, or by trauma to the spine through an accident or injury.

As osteoporosis weakens bones, the severity of the trauma required to cause a fracture decreases, making spinal injuries more likely. In some cases, a fracture can increase pressure on nearby vertebrae and spinal discs, or on the surrounding nerves, leading to further complications and possibly causing pain to radiate down into the legs, according to NIH. Stress fractures can weaken the bone to the point where the spine shifts out of place, which is called spondylolisthesis. This condition is generally treated with back braces, medication and physical therapy, though surgery may be necessary in some cases.

NIH notes that sports activities like gymnastics, football and weight lifting can stress the lower back and require hyperextension of the spine, which may make fractures more likely. Stress fractures can be detected by techniques including x-ray, discography, bone scan and magnetic resonance imaging. Because athletic activities can cause or worsen stress fractures, NIH generally recommends avoiding exercise when recovering from this type of injury. If someone is suspected to have a spinal injury, the NIH recommends waiting for medical professionals rather than moving the injured person. Attempts to reposition the spine or move the individual may cause further damage.

In severe spinal fractures, bone fragments from broken vertebrae can damage the spinal cord. Surgery is only recommended when nerves are affected or when a fracture leads to other spinal problems, according to the NIH. One out-patient surgery, vertebroplasty, involves injecting a cement-like substance into the spine through a small incision. The mixture is used to strengthen the spine and relieve pain in cases where back braces, rest, analgesics and other non-invasive measures fail.