A vertebral body compression fracture is a type of fracture in the spine in which a vertebral bone has decreased at least 15 to 20 percent in height due to fracture. They are followed by acute back pain and may lead to chronic pain, deformity, loss of height, and crowding of internal organs. Pain from a spinal compression fracture allowed to heal naturally can last as long as three months. But the pain usually improves significantly in a matter of days or weeks. Pain management may include analgesic pain medicines, bed rest, back bracing, and physical activity.
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Compression fracture may start gradually and get worse over time or come on suddenly and sharply. But regardless of how it happens, it's important to let your doctor know about it, especially if you're a woman who is near or over age 50.
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Pain from a spinal compression fracture allowed to heal naturally can last as long as three months. But the pain usually improves significantly in a matter of days or weeks.
Pain management may include analgesic pain medicines, bed rest, back bracing, and physical activity.
Pain medications. A carefully prescribed "cocktail" of pain medications can relieve bone-on-bone, muscle, and nerve pain, explains F. Todd Wetzel, MD, professor of orthopaedics and neurosurgery at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. "If it's prescribed correctly, you can reduce doses of the individual drugs in the cocktail."
Over-the-counter pain medications are often sufficient in relieving pain. Two types of non-prescription medications acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are recommended. Narcotic pain medications and muscle relaxants are often prescribed for short periods of time, since there is risk of addiction. Antidepressants can also help relieve nerve-related pain.
Activity modification. Bed rest may help with acute pain, but it can also lead to further bone loss and worsening osteoporosis, which raises your risk for future compression fractures. Doctors may recommend a short period of bed rest for no more than a few days. However, prolonged inactivity should be avoided.
Back bracing. A back brace provides external support to limit the motion of fractured vertebrae much like applying a cast on a broken wrist. The rigid style of a back brace limits spine-related motion significantly, which may help reduce pain.
Osteoporosis treatment. Bone-strengthening drugs such as bisphosphonates (such as Actonel, Boniva, and Fosamax) help stabilize or restore bone loss. This is a critical part of treatment to help prevent further compression fractures.
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You should avoid all high impact activities, including sports and exercise. You should also avoid any bending, twisting, or lifting motions. However, this does not mean you should stay sedentary until the fracture heals. Low impact activities, such as walking or tai chi, are good for your heart, and a healthy circulatory system can increase blood flow to the fracture and help your bones heal faster. It's also essential to avoid bed rest to minimize your chances of developing blood clots or deep vein thrombosis in your legs.
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Most compression fractures due to injury heal in 8 to 10 weeks with rest, wearing of a brace, and pain medicines. However, recovery can take much longer if surgery was done. After you’re diagnosed with a spinal fracture, it’s time to start the recovery process. Try these tips during your recovery.
Spinal fractures can be painful, and many people find they need something to relieve the discomfort, especially during the period immediately after the fracture has occurred. Work with your doctor to determine the appropriate type of pain relief for you. This depends on the level of pain you are experiencing and any other types of medication you are currently taking. As the pain subsides, you may be able to decrease the dosage, switch to an over-the-counter pain reliever, or eliminate medication altogether.
If your spinal fracture is related to a medical condition such as osteoporosis, your doctor might also prescribe medication to help improve bone density.
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The body needs plenty of energy to heal itself, so getting ample rest is critical. Limiting activity is especially important immediately after the injury because this is when the body’s inflammatory response initiates the most pain and swelling. Limiting movement allows your body to heal itself while also lowering the risk of another injury. For several weeks, you should also avoid bending, twisting, and lifting.
While you rest, it is also important to maintain a healthy diet that provides your body with the nutrients it needs for the healing process. Make sure to stay hydrated and eat balanced meals that include fruits and vegetables. Foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as milk, fortified cereals, and some lean proteins, may help your body heal and prevent the loss of bone density.
As you continue to recover, physical therapy can help you build strength and regain range of motion in your back. Muscles in the hips, back, and abdominals weaken during the rest phase, when mobility is limited. Safely rebuilding these muscles is necessary to return to regular activity and prevent reinjury. Your physical therapy treatment plan might include:
Your doctor or physical therapist might also recommend using a back brace to provide support during the recovery process. The brace temporarily immobilizes the back, helping to reduce the risk of reinjury and providing additional support to the bones and muscles. Follow your doctor’s instructions about the use of this brace. Recovery eventually requires engaging the back muscles, so prolonged use of the brace might actually undermine recovery.
Using a cold therapy system during spinal fracture recovery may help relieve pain and swelling in the area surrounding the injury. Ice reduces inflammation, making it an especially useful tool immediately following an injury.
Traditional ice packs may deliver inconsistent cold and warm up quickly. Some cold therapy systems offer therapeutic cold in combination with wrap-conforming compression. This compression helps the wrap to conform to the body, and allows cold to penetrate deeper into the damaged tissues. Cold therapy systems are also easy to use and do not require you to hold an ice pack in the same position throughout the treatment process. You can rent a device for home use during recovery or use a system at your physical therapy appointment.
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