Your spine has 24 bones called vertebrae that are stacked on top of one another. If one of these bones cracks or collapses due to pressure or an injury or a disease like osteoporosis, it is called a spinal compression fracture. According to the University of Maryland Spine Program, spinal compression fractures usually happen in the lower thoracic spine, which is the middle portion of the spine 12. After you receive initial treatment and begin to heal, you may receive physical therapy to help strengthen spinal muscles and return to a normal lifestyle.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Causes and Symptoms
A frequent cause of spinal compression fractures is osteoporosis, which is a bone thinning and weakening disease 2. According to the SpineUniversity website, there are approximately 700,000 cases of compression fractures related to osteoporosis yearly in the United States 2. Other diseases and conditions, such as parathyroid gland disorders and various cancers, may also weaken the vertebrae. Trauma from a car accident or severe fall can cause spinal compression fractures, resulting in severe pain in your back, legs and arms 2. Generally, symptoms are milder if the fracture is related to osteoporosis.
Over-the-counter or prescription pain medications may help control your pain. Generally, your doctor will recommend resting and limiting your activities so the fracture can heal. Your doctor may also prescribe a brace to support your back and restrict movement. The brace holds your spine tightly in place to relieve pressure and allow the fractured vertebrae to heal. Severe spinal compression fractures that threaten spinal nerves and spinal stability may require surgery 2.
Increased Activity Level and Rehabilitation
While wearing a brace, you can usually increase your activity level after a week, but avoid strenuous activities and exercise. According to the SpineUniversity website, most spinal compression fractures caused by osteoporosis heal within eight weeks and the pain improves as the fracture heals 2. However, a fracture may change your spinal structure, so you might have some lingering pain. The healing time after a traumatic spinal fracture depends on the severity of the injury.
About Physical Therapy
After six to eight weeks, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy. The first goal of treatment is to help control pain and inflammation by using ice, electrical stimulation and massage. The physical therapist may also introduce you to various flexibility, strength and postural exercises to improve your posture, your body mechanics and ability to perform daily tasks.
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