5 Tips for Spinal Recovery | Game ReadyA spinal fracture is a painful and potentially serious injury. Both trauma, such as from an accident or fall, and diseases that weaken bones, such as osteoporosis, can fracture the spine.1 Some of the symptoms associated with a spinal fracture may include:

  • Sudden back pain
  • Increased pain with standing or walking
  • Limited mobility in the spine
  • Becoming shorter
  • Stiffness and steadily worsening back pain 
  • A physical deformity such as a hunch in the back2

In many cases, treatment for a spinal fracture does not require surgery, as the bones may heal on their own. Instead, a person may need to use an immobilization corset or brace for many weeks. A cautious approach and a few proactive strategies may help the recovery process and reduce pain.3

Spinal Fracture Recovery Tips

After you’re diagnosed with a spinal fracture, it’s time to start the recovery process. Try these tips during your recovery.

1. Medication Should Be Used Only as Needed

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.4

If your spinal fracture is related to a medical condition such as osteoporosis, your doctor might also prescribe medication to help improve bone density.

2. Rest is Important During the Recovery Process

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.5

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.6

3. Physical Therapy Builds Strength

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:

  • Flexibility exercises to improve range of motion
  • Weight-bearing exercises to improve muscle and bone strength
  • Techniques for maintaining proper posture
  • Exercises to help you avoid falls
  • Nutrition consultation to improve bone strength7

4. Bracing Provides Support

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.3

5. Cold Therapy Can Help

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.8

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.

Selecting a physical therapist is an important step in the spinal fracture recovery process. Ask your doctor for recommendations.

Endnotes

  1. Fractures of the thoracic and lumbar spine. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/fractures-of-the-thoracic-and-lumbar-spine/. Published September 2015.
  2. Compression fracture. Cedars-Sinai. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/c/compression-fracture.html. Accessed July 11, 2019.
  3. Spinal fractures. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17498-spinal-fractures.
  4. Vertebral compression fractures. AANS. https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Vertebral-Compression-Fractures. Accessed July 11, 2019.
  5. Recovering from falls. National Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.nof.org/patients/fracturesfall-prevention/exercisesafe-movement/recovering-from-falls/. Accessed July 11, 2019.
  6. Osteoporosis diet and nutrition: foods for bone health. National Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.nof.org/patients/treatment/nutrition/.
  7. Wong CC, McGirt MJ. Vertebral compression fractures: a review of current management and multimodal therapy. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare. 2013:205-214. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3693826/.
  8.   Ice therapy. UCLA Spine Center. https://www.uclahealth.org/spinecenter/ice-therapy.  Accessed July 11, 2019.