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Coping with Compression Fractures


Compression fractures of the spine are a common result of motor vehicle accidents and other injuries, and can be the source of continuing pain for many years after they occur.


A compression fracture is a crushing injury to one of the bones that make up the spine. The body or main part of the vertebra is usually affected, while the posterior part of the bone made up of the spinal joints usually remains intact. The discs above and below the vertebrae may be compressed or may be relatively unaffected. The vertebra is generally compressed more at the front, giving it a wedge shape. This causes a slight increase in the normal curve if it happens to be in the upper back. In the lower back it causes a localized reversal of the normal curve.

The most common causes of compression fractures are motor vehicle accidents, falls on the base of the spine or blows to the top of the head. Another possible cause is a lap belt injury, most commonly sustained in a head-on collision in which the upper body jack-knifes forward over the lap belt. This may compress the front of the lumbar vertebra. Compression fractures can also be caused by severe osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones. In its advanced stages, this makes the bone susceptible to spontaneous fractures.

Many compression fractures go undiagnosed, being dismissed as muscle spasms or sprains. Even when recognized, traditional treatment is limited to time and rest except in very severe cases. Especially in the thoracic spine where they are "splinted" by the ribs, the bones need no stabilizing and the vertebra will heal in its shortened, wedge-shaped form.

Even after healing has taken place, the site of the fracture is often a source of pain. Patients are usually told there is nothing that can be done, and it is true that the shape of the vertebrae cannot be restored. However, there are a lot of things that can be done to eliminate the pain. Exercise and massage therapy will go a long way toward overcoming the muscle weakness and imbalances set up by the injury. Chiropractic care is also of great benefit to release the posterior joints.

Often after a spinal injury, there are spinal joint fixations above and below the fracture which place the fracture site under a great deal of stress. Pain after a compression fracture can often be relieved by adjusting the rest of the spine. This can be effective even before healing of the fracture is complete, if done with skill and care by a qualified chiropractor. Once healing is complete, the spinal joints at the site of the compression can usually be mobilized as well, offering sometimes dramatic relief of pain.

To prevent pain and degenerative changes following a compression fracture, it is important to see your chiropractor on a regular basis. This will keep the spine in balance and provide maximum mobility. If you have had a compression fracture of the spine, whether recent or many years ago, consult your chiropractor to determine the best treatment to relieve pain and restore and maintain function.

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