Nonsurgical Treatment for Spine Compression Fractures
Most people with spine compression fractures don’t require surgery. Spine specialists at NYU Langone recommend medication, custom-fit back braces, and a combination of exercise and activity modification to relieve pain and help you remain active.
Our experts in orthopaedics, neurology, and neurosurgery also work closely with NYU Langone endocrinologists—who specialize in treating people with osteoporosis—to provide comprehensive treatment. Our experts offer nonsurgical care to help you build bone strength, maintain stability in the spine, and walk without pain.
Many spine compression fractures heal in two or three months. If you have osteoporosis, a full recovery may take as long as a year. Regular follow-up visits during this time allow your doctor to evaluate the fractured vertebra and the way your spine is responding to the injury.
A fractured vertebra has the potential to heal regardless of your age, the severity of the fracture, and whether you have other medical conditions. In order to give the bone time to heal, your doctor may recommend that you 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.
Your NYU Langone doctor can advise you on safe forms of physical activity, and may recommend physical therapy, which can be performed by specialists at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation. For many people, it’s best to avoid physical therapy soon after a spine compression fracture to decrease stress on the fractured bone. Later on, physical therapy is helpful for strengthening the muscles that support the vertebrae.
Your doctor may recommend a back brace to support and stabilize the spine while a compression fracture heals. He or she may recommend that you wear the brace every day until the fracture heals.
Specialists at NYU Langone can customize a brace for you, ensuring that it fits well and is comfortable to wear.
Pain Relief Medication
Spine compression fractures may cause significant pain, especially if the fracture occurred as the result of an accident such as a fall. Our pain management specialists can provide you with medication to relieve pain while your bones heal. Pain medication does not help with the healing process, but reduced pain may allow you to remain mobile as you heal.
Depending on your level of pain, doctors may recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, or pain relief medication, such as acetaminophen. If pain persists, our specialists may prescribe a stronger pain reliever.
People with osteoporosis may also receive calcitonin salmon, a medication given as a nasal spray. This medication is a synthetic form of calcitonin, a hormone that regulates levels of calcium in the body. It increases the level of calcium in bones and can also relieve pain at the site of a fracture.
Typically, doctors prescribe pain medication for two weeks. Then they schedule an appointment for a follow-up examination before recommending further treatment.
If your pain level is reduced after two weeks of medication, activity modification, and bracing, doctors continue to recommend nonsurgical treatment. If pain remains significant after 8 to 10 weeks and affects your ability to participate in everyday activities, doctors may discuss the possibility of surgery.