It is important to identify the symptoms of spinal compression fractures and notify your doctor right away. Sudden, severe back pain, especially in older women, may signal a spinal compression fracture or another serious condition.
Anyone with significant back pain -- especially a woman who is near or over age 50 -- should see a doctor. Most compression fractures in women over 50 are due to osteoporosis and treatment can help reduce the chance of further compression fractures.
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It may take time, though. "It can take a couple of months," depending on how deep the damage to the bone, says endocrinologist Ann Kearns, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. While you're healing, there are pain treatments that don't call for surgery. They include:
Pain medicines. These include acetaminophen (Actamin, Anacin AF, Tylenol), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), and prescription opioids. If you use opioids, it should be for a short time: "If possible, four weeks or less," says Chad Deal, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic. All drugs have side effects, so speak with your doctor about what’s best for you.
Hot or cold compresses. Applying heat or cold may help. "Some people like heat, some like cold," Deal says. "Whatever feels best."
TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). A TENS system includes a small, battery-powered machine, connected by wires to a pair of electrodes. The electrodes are connected to your skin near the pain source. A mild electrical current travels through your skin and goes along your nerve fibers. It may reduce pain by changing the way your brain perceives pain, experts say. One session takes about 15 minutes. "TENS is sometimes helpful -- not a game-changer but worth a try," Deal says.
Massage. This may give your muscles relief. Get your doctor's approval first, only get massage from a qualified therapist, and make sure the therapist knows about your osteoporosis and your fracture.
Other options that you and your doctor may consider as your fracture heals include using braces and muscle-relaxing prescription drugs. Some cases also involve taking calcitonin or parathyroid hormone, but that’s less common.
Not every broken bone calls for surgery. For example, some wrist fractures do need a surgeon's care; others heal with only a cast. Even with a broken hip, some people only need to be monitored by a doctor.