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Physical Therapy for Compression Fractures – Information, Exercises, and More

Unbearable pain. Numbness. Poor posture.

Compression fracture symptoms can come out of nowhere and leave you unable to enjoy even the simplest things. 

While a compression fracture is common in many older adults, it is treatable. It’s possible to get back to the things you love doing. 

Learn more about compression fractures, treatment options, and how physical therapy for compression fractures can help you get back to living well


 What Is a Compression Fracture?

A compression fracture is a small break or crack in your vertebrae — the bones that make up your spinal column. 

Compression fractures usually happen in the thoracic (middle) part of the spine, especially in the lower thoracic area. Compression fractures can cause the vertebrae to collapse, making them shorter in height.

When the vertebrae collapse, it can cause pieces of bone to press on the spinal cord and nerves. This can decrease the amount of oxygen and blood that gets to the spinal cord. It can also affect posture and lead to a “hunched over” position. 

What Causes Compression Fractures?

The most common cause of compression fractures is osteoporosis, which causes bones to weaken. Weakened bones are more likely to fracture. 

Moderate osteoporosis can lead to a compression fracture from a fall, sports injury, or another type of accident. Those with severe osteoporosis can fracture a bone during daily activities, such as sneezing, coughing, getting out of a vehicle, or twisting. Compression fractures caused by osteoporosis are more common as people age. 

Younger people who don’t have osteoporosis can also get a compression fracture from a trauma such as a car accident, sports injury, or tumors in the spine. Cancerous tumors can begin in the spine, but they more commonly have spread to the spine, weakening the veteran and causing the bones to break. 

Who Is at Risk for a Compression Fracture?

While older men get compression fractures too, the most common compression fractures that are linked to osteoporosis are found in women over 50. Women are four times as likely to have this condition compared to men. That’s because going through menopause causes estrogen levels to drop significantly — a change that leads to bone loss.

Also, people who have already had a compression fracture are at higher risk than average of having another one. 

How Common Are Compression Fractures?

Compression fractures are quite common. Each year, Americans experience approximately 1.5 million vertebral compression fractures. 

Nearly half of all people over 80 have had a compression fracture.

Compression Fracture Symptoms

When a compression fracture first starts developing, there may be no symptoms at all — as many compression fractures are discovered via an unrelated X-ray. 

Once symptoms begin, they can range from mild to severe. 

Noticeable symptoms can include:

  • Back pain that can come on suddenly and become chronic
  • Numbness or tingling from pinched or damaged nerves
  • Muscle weakness due to nerve damage 
  • Problems walking due to nerve damage
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control due to nerve damage 
  • Limited spinal movement that makes it difficult to bend or twist 
  • Stooped posture from vertebral height loss 
  • Loss of spinal height as the vertebrae compress and the back curves 

How Is a Compression Fracture Diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will first ask about your health history, recent injuries, your symptoms, and give a physical exam. 

During the exam, your provider may: 

  • Check your posture and your spine’s alignment
  • Push on different areas of your pack to help identify the source of your pain
  • Look for signs of nerve damage (such as numbness or muscle weakness)
  • Order imaging of your spine to look for fractures and other injuries (X-rays, CT scans, or MRI)

Compression Fracture Treatment

Compression fracture treatment focuses on relieving pain, stabilizing the bones in the spine, and preventing another fracture. 

If your compression fracture is related to osteoporosis, your healthcare provider will want to treat the osteoporosis first. You may need to take bone-strengthening medicine and supplements such as calcium and vitamin D. 

Compression fracture treatment may include:

  • Pain medicine to relieve your back pain. This may be over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or they may prescribe muscle relaxers or prescription drugs. Follow your provider’s instructions carefully when taking these medications.
  • Bed rest for a short time, followed by limited activity while your bones heal
  • Wearing a back brace to support your vertebrae. It can also relieve pain by reducing how much you move your spine.
  • Physical therapy to help you move better and strengthen the muscles around your spine.
  • Surgery if other treatments aren’t helping, such as Kyphoplasty or Vertebroplasty.

If a cancerous tumor is causing your symptoms, you may need radiation therapy as well as surgery to remove some of the bone and treat the tumor. 

If an injury has caused the fracture, you may need surgery (fusion) to repair the bone and join the vertebrae together. 

Physical Therapy for Compression Fractures – Will PT Help?

Physical therapy is a very effective treatment for compression fractures. 

While you heal from your injury, your regular activity is limited. Muscles in the core, hips, and back can become weak. This weakness can make it difficult to resume your regular activities and can increase your risk for falls. It’s important to help the muscles and legs stay strong as you healwhich is why physical therapy for compression fractures is so crucial. 

A licensed physical therapist can teach you physical therapy exercises that can relieve your symptoms and help get you back on your feet.

3 Compression Fracture Exercises

#1: Bird Dog for Seniors: Decompression

This exercise works the deep abdominal muscles to help improve your core stability and control:

  1. Position yourself on all fours on your bed and keep a good posture. 
  2. Draw your stomach inwards (towards the ceiling). 
  3. Lift your hand and opposite knee upwards.
  4. Repeat each side. You will be surprised how well this works the deep abdominal muscles to improve core stability and control.
  5. Hold for 3 seconds with 14 reps 3-4 times daily.

#2: Arm Lifts Sitting

This exercise can help mobilize your shoulders and upper back, and strengthen your arms:

  1. Sit upright with good posture. 
  2. Lift both arms gently in front of you. 
  3. Take your arms as far as feels comfortable. If you cannot get your arms above your head, just take your arms to your comfortable end of range. 
  4. Slowly lower your arms. 
  5. Hold for 3 seconds with 14 reps 3-4 times daily

#3: Bruegger’s Posture Sitting

You should feel this stretch across your chest and front, as well as muscles working in your back, all helping to improve your posture:

  1. Sit on the edge of a chair and open your legs, allowing them to relax outwards. 
  2. Keep your body and spine tall, lift the crown of your head towards the ceiling, and arch your lower back slightly. 
  3. Turn your arms outwards so your palms are facing forward and draw your shoulder blades down and towards the midline. 
  4. Make a gentle double chin with your head at the same time. 
  5. Breathe deeply throughout. 
  6. Hold for 3 seconds with 14 reps 3-4 times daily

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Compression Fractures

Compression fractures can be painful and frustrating — but you don’t have to face this pain alone.

Compression fracture physical therapy with the physical therapists and personal trainers at In Motion O.C. can help you find relief. 

You can trust us as the number one rated physical therapist in the nation according to Yelp users.

We offer our patients:

  • Personalized treatment options
  • State-of-the-art facilities
  • Staff that truly cares

Don’t continue to suffer alone. Request a free screening today!


The content in this blog should not be used in place of direct medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes.

In Motion O.C.