The sacrum is a triangular-shaped flat bone that sits like an upside-down heart at the base of your spine. It is located between the hips. It also connects to the pelvis and helps stabilize the body when sitting, standing, or walking. It might not be one of the first bones that come to mind when you think of a break, or it may not seem like a big deal if you do suffer a sacral fracture. In fact, between 25% to 70% of all sacral fractures can be misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed altogether. The sacrum is a strong, dense bone that is difficult to break.
A sacral fracture is often the cause of either aging and bone deterioration or trauma such as a car accident. While sacral fractures are not as common as lumbar spine, pelvic, or coccyx fractures, they can still occur and can also be quite painful, and if not diagnosed, can lead to long-term effects and further complications.
Types of Sacral Fractures
Car accidents or sports injuries are the most common causes of sacral fractures.
Osteoporosis or other underlying conditions may also be the root of a sacrum fracture. There are a few different types of sacral fractures that can occur.
Low impact fractures
These types of fractures, also known as insufficiency fractures, are the kind that typically occur in the elderly that have weak bones or other conditions such as osteoporosis. In these cases, a person may have slipped or fallen on their tailbone and will experience persistent buttocks or back pain. The pain is usually described as an achy feeling in the hips, lower back, and buttocks.
High energy sacral fractures
These types of fractures are often a result of trauma such as a car accident or a fall from high up. They can also occur in conjunction with pelvic or spinal fractures, especially in the event of a motor vehicle collision. About 50% of all high-energy sacral fractures also result in nerve injuries in the lowest segments of the spinal cord.
Too much activity, such as continued long-distance running, can lead to stress fractures of the sacrum. Women who have just had a baby may also experience a sacral stress fracture. The activity is usually too much for the sacrum to withstand and will lead to a stress fracture. If you experience lower back, buttocks, or leg pain when running, this could be a sign of a sacral stress fracture and may require rest from such activities to fully heal. When beginning to run again, start slowly in order to avoid a recurrence of the same injury.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of a Sacral Fracture
People who have fractured their sacrum will first notice something wrong when they try to sit or stand. Putting weight on the sacrum can lead to extreme discomfort and pain throughout the hips and back. Other signs of a sacral fracture can include bruising or discoloration, inflammation, or muscle weakness. Unfortunately, it could be days or weeks before some notice the symptoms. It is imperative to seek medical attention as soon as symptoms begin to occur. Unfortunately, diagnosis of a sacral fracture can be difficult as they don’t always show up on an x-ray. They can be misdiagnosed as a sprained back, lower back fracture, or a urinary tract infection. When pain doesn’t improve over time, it could mean something else is actually at the root of the problem. A CAT scan or MRI is more effective at showing a sacral fracture for proper diagnosis.
In fact, after performing an initial examination to determine symptoms and discussing a patient’s health history, the next step in properly diagnosing a sacral fracture is ordering imaging.
Doctors are then able to take a close look at these images to diagnose your injury and move forward with a personalized treatment plan that will aid in your recovery.
In cases when sacral fractures go untreated, there can be unfortunate long-term effects, such as
- Stiff muscles that cause limping
- Assistance required going up and down stairs
- Help getting in and out of bed
- Walking aids to move around
- Nerve damage and numbness
- Soft tissue damage
Call your doctor if you notice swelling or experience pain in the back, buttocks, and legs that doesn’t go away, have pain that gets worse when you walk but better when you lie down, or have questions about your condition. Seek immediate care if you have increased pain in the lower back region, experience numbness or weakness of the legs, have a tingling sensation like pins and needles in the legs, or experience problems controlling your bladder or bowel movements.
Treatment and Recovery After a Sacral Fracture
Like most fractures, time and rest will allow the fracture to heal. Your doctor may also recommend other treatment methods as well to speed up the recovery process.
Right after an injury, additional support might be needed to help support healing. Back braces or corsets can keep the bone from moving as it fuses back together.
Limiting activity or movement is best to allow for proper healing. It isn’t recommended that you stop all activity as you can develop pneumonia or other health conditions from bed rest. However, to keep from aggravating an injury further, avoid intense activity or too much movement, especially twisting, bending, jumping, etc.
Doctors may also prescribe pain medications to ease discomfort as the bone heals. In addition to pain medication, anti-inflammatories might also be given to reduce swelling and inflammation from the injury, which will relieve pressure on the legs and joints.
While rest and time go a long way in healing an injury, there are also other ways to aid the healing process and strengthen the body. After the injury has had some time to heal, physical therapy can be recommended by doctors to continue to improve mobility.
In some instances, surgery may be required for those who experience longer than normal healing times. This type of surgery is called sacroplasty. Orthopedic surgeons are usually successful in injecting bone cement at the sight of the fracture in a noninvasive procedure. This will help the fracture to seal and alleviate pain, but it can require a few months of recovery time to fully feel the results.
Whatever treatment plan your doctor recommends, it is advisable to follow the recommendations of your doctor, even when you begin to feel better, in order to have the most success in your recovery process.
Preventing Sacral Fractures
Not all sacral fractures can be prevented, especially high-energy sacral fractures that are the result of an accident such as a car crash or slip and fall injury. But you can do a lot to strengthen your sacrum bone so that it is more equipped to withstand an injury or won’t be as prone to weakness and degeneration as you get older. One thing you can do is eat a calcium-rich diet. Calcium is great for bone strength. If you aren’t getting enough calcium in your diet, you can also take calcium and vitamin D supplements to ensure your bones are receiving the calcium they need to stay strong. Weight-bearing exercises are also a great support for your body. Strong muscles are able to better support the musculoskeletal system. Other tips for avoiding potential sacral fractures can include using proper equipment and techniques in sporting activities or removing any tripping hazards, such as rugs or clutter on the floor, to prevent potential falls and injuries.
Experienced Accident Doctors at AICA in Atlanta
Suffering from an injury can be a painful and traumatic experience, especially if it is the result of an accident. Sacrum fractures are already hard enough to diagnose and painful to deal with. To make sure you receive an accurate diagnosis and quality care throughout the recovery process, you will want to work with an experienced accident doctor who is familiar with these types of injuries.
Qualified professionals at AICA in Atlanta are here for you. From using imaging to properly diagnose your sacral fracture to working with a variety of specialists to form a comprehensive treatment plan, our team of doctors will see that you receive the highest level of care and the best chance for a full recovery after an injury. Improper care is a very real risk to your health, especially when it comes to the potential long-term effects that could come from a lack of treatment for a fractured sacrum. Our orthopedists, radiologists, pain management doctors, neurologists, physical therapists, chiropractors, or other specialists can help manage long-term effects to alleviate pain and help you find relief.
A fractured sacrum doesn’t have to affect your quality of life. Get back to living your life with the help of medical professionals at AICA Atlanta. Contact us today for more information about our services or to schedule your appointment.