The thought of “breaking your back” is pretty scary, but more than 700,000 people a year fracture their spines and do not even realize it. In fact, many of them brush off the symptoms (backaches, loss of flexibility and a tendency to appear “hunched”) as a normal part of aging. While such fractures may not create big problems in the short-term, left untreated, they can cause serious long-term issues.
Most compression fractures occur at the end of the thoracic (middle) spine where it joins the lumbar (lower) spine. The 24 bones (vertebrae) that make up the spinal column must withstand a certain amount of stress. Compression fractures frequently affect people with osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become more brittle and breakable, leaving the vertebrae unable to do their job. They become so weak that even a strong sneeze or cough can cause a hairline fracture in the front of the vertebra. Another type of compression fracture, caused by falling too hard on your bottom, typically affects the back of the vertebra.
Whatever the cause of your compression fracture, the good news is that surgery is usually not necessary, especially when you seek treatment in a timely manner. A good physical therapy program started six to eight weeks after the fracture is often enough to treat the injury and prevent further problems.
- Therapies such as ice, electrical stimulation, rest or gentle stretching can relieve pain and inflammation.
- An orthosis, a special kind of back brace molded to your body, will protect your spine as it heals.
- Early mobilization, weight-bearing exercise and a combination of flexibility, strength and postural exercises can improve posture and enhance function.
We can offer recommendations to modify your movements to avoid further strain on your back—for example, it is best to avoid sit-ups—so that you can return to your daily activities safely and comfortably. By performing your exercises as part of an ongoing home program, you can attain your goals.