The most common treatments for a thoracic compression fracture are pain medications, decreasing activity, and bracing. Doctors are also using newer nonsurgical procedures called vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. These methods are minimally invasive and showing promise in the treatment of vertebral compression fractures. Vertebral fractures usually take about three months to fully heal. X-rays will probably be taken monthly to check on the healing progress. Surgery for compression fractures is rarely needed.
Mild pain medications may be prescribed. Remember that medications will not help the fracture to heal, but they can help control pain.
You will most likely have to limit your normal activities. Avoid strenuous activity or exercise. Do not lift heavy objects. Stay away from any activity that might place too much strain on your fractured vertebra. If you are elderly, your doctor may put you on bed rest. Older bones take longer to heal than younger bones and are typically thinner and weaker. Treat this fracture as you would any other broken bone-carefully and seriously.
Another common form of treatment for some types of vertebral compression fractures is bracing. Your doctor may prescribe a back support (called an orthosis). The brace supports the back and restricts movement; just as an arm brace would support a fractured arm.
Braces are molded to conform tightly to your body, like a cast for any other fracture. Braces used to treat a compression fracture of the spine are designed to keep you from bending forward. They hold the spine in more extension (straightened). This takes pressure off the fractured vertebral body and allows it to heal. The brace protects the vertebra and stops further collapse of the bone. Learn more about back and neck braces.
Minimally Invasive Methods
Doctors are using two new procedures to treat compression fractures-vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. Vertebroplasty is a method of injecting special cement inside the broken vertebral body. It is mainly used to ease pain and improve the strength of the vertebral body.
Kyphoplasty provides the additional benefit of restoring some or all of the normal height of the vertebral body. Doctors slide a tube with a deflated balloon inside the broken bone. The balloon is inflated to help restore the height of the broken vertebra. Bone cement is injected into the cavity formed by the balloon to hold the vertebra at its corrected height.
Spinal surgery is a serious undertaking and is only considered to fix vertebral compression fractures if there is evidence of sudden and serious instability of the spine. For instance, if the fracture leads to a loss of 50 percent of the vertebral body’s height, surgery might be necessary to prevent the bone from collapsing onto the spinal nerves and causing more serious damage.
If surgery is necessary to remove pressure from the spinal cord, two approaches will be considered, anterior and posterior. Some type of internal fixation may be suggested to hold the vertebra in the proper position while it heals. Due to the risks and complications associated with it, internal fixation is only done in severe spinal compression fractures. Bone fragments may need to be removed if they are pushing into the spinal cord and nerves, causing too much pressure.