Overview of Osteoporosis and Spinal Compression Fractures
Osteoporosis is a disease where both bone quality and strength, are significantly reduced. The disease can range from mild to severe bone loss and without proper management, typically increases in severity over time. When living with osteoporosis, an important consideration is that you are at a much higher risk of fractures. People with osteoporosis are not only more likely to get fractures from major traumas, but they are also at a higher risk of fractures from minor events. These are known as fragility fractures, a fracture that is caused by a trauma that in a typical person, would not be significant enough to cause a fracture.
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Fragility fracture can be caused by falls from, at, or below standing height or even from intense coughing. This article focuses on spinal (vertebral) fractures, fractures of the bones that make up your spinal column. If you imagine a vertebra as cube-shaped, then imagine your spinal column as these cubes stacked on top of one another. Most commonly, a wedge-type fracture occurs, meaning that a vertebra is compressed on one side and it becomes more wedge than cube-shaped. This can all sound quite intimidating and alarming; however, there are effective ways of managing spinal compression fractures, and, even more importantly, methods of protecting yourself from further fractures.
I’ve been diagnosed with a spinal compression fracture? Now what?
Once you’ve been diagnosed with a fragility fracture, you are at a higher risk of future fractures. As such, the focus of treatment is both on managing your current spinal fracture as well as preventing further fragility fractures. Seeing a physiotherapist is essential for both the management and prevention aspects of care. However, it is equally as important to work closely with your family physician to best manage the spinal compression fracture. Your family physician may monitor the fracture and your overall bone health by ordering diagnostic imaging. They may also provide recommendations on medications for pain, medications for improving bone health, discuss important dietary considerations, and much more. Taking a well-rounded approach to managing a spinal fracture will yield the best possible outcome for improving your bone health and quality of life.
How can physiotherapy help?
Physiotherapy is important for both managing your current spinal compression fracture and for preventing other fractures from occurring. The different aspects of physiotherapy care and what to expect when you see a physiotherapist are outlined below. Your physiotherapist is there to guide you safely and effectively through the rehabilitation process.
Biomechanics research shows us that certain activities and body positions place greater stress on our vertebrae than others. For people with osteoporosis, this means certain activities/postures may put you at risk of aggravating the fracture or causing further fractures. These activity recommendations depend on the disease severity and your specific fracture, they do not apply to everyone. Ensure you discuss your own individual recommendations with your physiotherapist and family physician.
Fall prevention is a critical component of fracture prevention. Fortunately, our balance systems can be improved with regular training. Your physiotherapist will design a balanced program that is both safe and challenging for your current level.
Spinal compression fractures are often painful. Physiotherapy will help you determine what positions make it feel better and provide specific gentle exercises that help decrease pain. Sometimes physiotherapists will use modalities, like a TENS machine, that can also help control pain.
Stretching and Strengthening
In order to strengthen our bones, we have to stress them with weight-bearing activities. Your physiotherapist will provide upper and lower body weight-bearing exercises in order to make the bones stronger. Core exercises will also be included as strong core muscles are the main way we can stabilize around the fracture site.
Return to Activity
It can feel intimidating and even frightening to return to your normal daily activities after sustaining a compression fracture. Your physiotherapist is there to guide you through the rehabilitation process gradually and safely. Our goal is to ensure you can participate in the activities you enjoy without being fearful of movement.
Physiotherapy is an important part of spinal compression fracture rehabilitation and Panther Sports Medicine physiotherapists are well equipped to help you through this process.