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The Causes of Stress Fractures of the Spine

By Lori Newell ; Updated August 14, 2017

Back pain can be caused by problems with the muscles, tendons, ligaments or nerves that run through the spinal column. Stress fractures, which are small cracks in the vertebrae, or bones of the spine, can also cause back pain. Several conditions can cause stress fractures of the back. To help fully manage this injury, patients should understand what causes spinal stress fractures and what measures they can take to treat them.

Overuse and Overtraining

Stress fractures often occur from overtraining. Training too hard can fatigue muscles to a point at which they are no longer able to support movement properly. This fatigue places stress on bones, which themselves can fatigue and eventually develop small cracks or stress fractures. Although stress fractures from overtraining are more common in the leg and foot, they can also occur in the back, according to the University of California Student Health Services. Spinal stress fractures are more common in female athletes who are thin and have irregular or absent menstrual cycles.


Spondylolysis is a condition that occurs in teenagers who participate in high-intensity sports. It tends to cause stress fractures in the lower portion of the spinal column. If the affected vertebrae move out of position, the condition is called spondylolisthesis. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that this condition may be genetic or occur during periods of rapid growth. Rest, medication and bracing can help this injury to heal. In severe case, patients may require surgery to repair the bone.


Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become frail and more susceptible to fractures. The spine is a common location in which the symptoms of this condition occur. The National Osteoporosis Foundation warns that as a patient's vertebrae weaken, they can develop fractures just from sneezing, coughing or moving the wrong way. These compression or stress fractures can cause a loss of height, stooped posture and chronic back pain. Participating in regular weight-bearing exercise, eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D and using bone-building medications when appropriate may help to prevent complications and progression.

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