How Quickly Do Spinal Compression Fractures Heal? Is Surgery Required?

  • Orthopedic Surgeon - Spine Specialist
  • back pain - outpatient surgery
  • July 13, 2021

Read Time: 8 minutes Did a doctor confirm a spinal compression fracture? Here’s what patients should know about recovery time and if surgery is necessary.

Is It Just Back Pain Or Something More?

Back pain can be a complicated situation. Sometimes, the issue is a muscle sprain, strain, or bulging disc. But there are some cases where there is one or more broken bones in the spinal column. These spinal compression fractures are painful and must be treated seriously. The spinal column is made of several bones called vertebrae stacked together. Spinal compression fractures happen when one vertebra suffers a fracture and collapses. The bone becomes at least 15% shorter and can cause severe structural issues. With medical help, these fractures will be able to heal.

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Back-breaking facts

About 8 in 10 persons will experience back complications at some point. Some will be compression fractures caused by an injury. However, most spinal compression fractures will happen in the thoracic area and are caused by osteoporosis. With osteoporosis, bones become brittle and are more prone to fractures. Osteoporosis is tricky since over 50 million Americans are at risk, and many won’t know until a fracture happens. Some can even go painless for a time. Menopausal women and older men are more at risk and should have periodic checks for fractures.

Treating your compression fracture

The only way to detect a spinal fracture is through x-rays, MRIs, or CT scans. There will also be symptoms like back pain, limited movement, numbness, and even a height decrease. Some persons may get kyphosis, an exaggerated rounding of the back. From there, the doctor can recommend different options to treat those brittle bones. For starters, a combination of rest and pain medication can get things moving in the right direction. The doctor may also recommend physical therapy to strengthen the surrounding muscles and bones. While doing physical activity, a back brace can help keep the bones secure. Along with consistent monitoring, the affected bones should heal well.

How long does it take, doc?

Patients will be anxious to know how soon the bone will heal. Fortunately, the prognosis is good with most spinal compression fractures. For an injury in a healthy person, consistent non-surgical treatment can take 8-12 weeks to heal. This timeframe is contingent on there not being additional damage that requires surgery. For osteoporosis, the bones will heal in about 12 weeks. However, the patient is at risk for future fractures. Medication and supplements like calcium and vitamin D can reduce the risk of further fractures.

Going under the knife

If the bones do not heal after treatment or are at risk of damaging the spine, surgery is needed. Untreated fractures can damage surrounding bones, nerves, and increase the rate of kyphosis. There are 2 effective, minimally invasive surgeries that can help. With vertebroplasty, the surgeon injects a fast-drying cement into the affected bone to stabilize the fracture. Kyphoplasty takes vertebroplasty a step further with a special balloon inserted into the damaged space. The balloon is inflated, restoring some of the height lost by the fracture. Then the vertebroplasty takes place.

Early detection means a faster recovery

Spinal compression fractures are serious and are a sign of weakened bones. If caught early, most patients would not need surgery. With the right rest, therapy, and medication, the bones can heal within 3 months. If surgery is required, patients should expect high success rates due to minimally invasive procedures. There is still the issue of managing osteoporosis to prevent future fractures. Speak with a doctor about osteoporosis prevention along with any symptoms of a compression fracture.

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