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Physical Therapy for Spinal Fractures

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As your body heals from a spinal fracture (or fractures), you may have to go to physical therapy. This may be part of your overall treatment plan developed by your doctor to help you return to a more normal life following the fracture.

If you have to wear a brace, you will most likely have to go to physical therapy because the two usually go together. The brace supports your spine while it heals, but then you also have to strengthen your body so that it's not dependent on the brace.

A physical therapist can work with you to strengthen your spinal muscles so that your spine is more supported and functions better. Spinal fractures change the way your spine functions. The spine is set up so that the stacked vertebrae carry your weight and control your movements; even a minor fracture can make the rest of your spine readjust how it carries your weight. This added stress can strain the muscles that support the spine.

The physical therapist may teach you various exercises and stretches that will focus on your back and core muscles. He or she will work with you to make sure you do them correctly, and you'll probably be given a home exercise plan. Follow this plan exactly because physical therapy is a vital part of your recovery from a spinal fracture.

As your spine heals, the physical therapist may have you do weight-bearing activities (such as walking or tennis) and/or weightlifting. These strengthen your bones.

Spinal fractures can lead to poor posture, especially if you have multiple fractures (a problem in osteoporosis). You start to hunch over because of the fractures, but that makes it less likely that your bones will heal with the correct alignment. Also, a rounded back puts more pressure on your spine, increasing your risk of another spinal fracture. A physical therapist can work with you to re-learn (or learn for the first time) good posture.

Depending on your needs, the physical therapist may work with you on "daily activities." These are the things you have to do every day to function, but they may be difficult after a spinal fracture. For example, after a spinal fracture, you may have to learn the best way (that is, the least painful way) to get out of bed.

Here's one of the most important things to remember about physical therapy: the PT program is created with you in mind. It's an individualized plan, so to get the most benefit from it, you should follow it exactly and let your physical therapist know what is and isn't working.

Updated on: 12/10/09
Jason M. Highsmith, MD
This article was reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD.
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