Even with your best efforts to protect your bones, it’s still possible to break a bone. People most often break a bone in the spine, hip or wrist. But people also break bones in other parts of the body, including the ribs, upper arms, pelvis, collarbones, ankles and feet. Regardless of the bone affected, recovery involves more than just healing the bone.
Regaining strength and returning to daily activities is an ongoing process. Recovery is a good time to take steps to prevent further bone loss and additional broken bones. To prevent future falls and borken bones, talk with your healthcare provider to develop an osteoporosis treatment plan. Check to make sure you are not taking a medication that affects your balance or causes drops in your blood pressure as both can increase your risk of falling. Also, have your vision and hearing checked.
Several types of health professionals can help you recover from a broken bone. An orthopedic doctor can help repair your broken bone. Physiatrists (doctors who specialize in rehabilitation), physical therapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs) use a variety of methods to help people with osteoporosis function fully after a broken bone.
Psychiatrists often oversee a team of health professionals that may include PTs, OTs and other healthcare professionals to provide well-rounded rehabilitation for the patient.
PTs treat pain and discomfort in many ways. These often include exercises to keep the joint moving as well as application of ice and heat. Such treatments are especially important in relieving the muscle spasms and pain that often come with broken bones of the spine. In addition, a supervised program of exercises to strengthen the back can help decrease pain and improve function. An OT can teach you techniques that will help you move safely during your daily activities to reduce pain and prevent falls.
Recovering from a Broken Wrist
Broken wrists are common in people under age 75. Women suffer more broken wrists around the time of menopause than at any other time. This is probably because of the bone loss that occurs during menopause.
While a simple broken wrist usually heals with a cast or splint, a more complex break often requires surgery. If your healthcare provider puts you in a cast or splint, you’ll need to wear it for six to eight weeks. During this time, a physiatrist or physical therapist can teach you exercises for your hand, wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder. Doing these daily will help preserve strength and movement of the wrist, fingers and arm.
After a broken wrist, you will need help with your daily routine. If the break is in your dominant arm (for example, your right wrist if you are right-handed), you may need help with tasks such as getting dressed, making meals and combing your hair. At the very least, this is frustrating. For people who are frail or have other physical problems, a wrist fracture can be quite disabling.
If you are between the ages of 40 and 60, a broken wrist can be an early warning sign of osteoporosis. If you break a wrist, ask your healthcare provider about getting a bone density test to find out if you have osteoporosis.
Recovering from Broken Bones in the Spine
Broken bones in the spine are also known as vertebral fractures or compression fractures. If you have a broken bone in the spine, it will take several weeks or more to heal. You probably won’t need surgery, but you will need to exercise and get rest. During the first week after a fracture, you will need more rest and less activity in order to heal. Soon you will be able to rest less and become more active. This will help you get your strength back. It will also help you get around more easily. In fact, it’s important to increase your activity because too much rest can cause bone loss.
Broken bones of the spine can sometimes cause other side effects that may need medical treatment. These can include muscle spasms in the back or constipation. No two people recover the same, so listen to your body. Pain and fatigue are signs that you may be pushing yourself too hard.
In some cases, vertebral fractures occur without any noticeable pain. People may learn about these broken bones from back x-rays. If you break a bone in your spine, you may require an osteoporosis medicine to prevent breaking more bones in the future.
Physiatrists, physical therapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs) can help you learn safe ways to move. They can teach you exercises to help limit your kyphosis. These healthcare professionals can also help you learn to manage your pain. To learn some safe exercises to help your spine, see “Moving Safely and Protecting the Spine.”
Sometimes your healthcare professional may recommend the temporary use of a back brace, jacket or corset to support your spine as you heal. At first you may need to wear it daily while you exercise, when your back is tired or when you have a lot of pain. The support may relieve pain by decreasing movement in the affected area of the spine. It will also allow you to return to normal activities sooner and keep kyphosis (curvature of the spine) from getting worse. As your back muscles become stronger, you will use the support less often. It is important not to become too dependent on the spinal support, because using it for too long will keep you from improving muscle and bone strength.
To reduce your risk of broken bones in the spine, you may need to avoid some activities or change the ways you do others. For example, you may not be able to pick up your grandchildren or do heavy housework. When carrying groceries, you may need to make several trips with small bags rather than carrying one or two heavy bags.
If you continue to have ongoing pain, your healthcare provider may also suggest a special procedure to stabilize the fracture. For some people, these procedures can help relieve pain caused by spine fractures. Always talk to your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of the options available to you.
Recovering from a Broken Hip
Breaking a hip tends to cause more problems than other broken bones. Most people who break a hip will need surgery to repair it. Some people have problems from the surgery and do not fully recover. Even after surgery, some people have trouble walking again and have to use a wheelchair or walker for a short or long period of time.
If you break a hip, a physiatrist, physical therapist (PT) or occupational therapist (OT) can teach you exercises to help you get better and learn safe ways to move. Recovering from a broken hip can take many months. In the early weeks of recovery, your activities will be limited. You may need to rely on others for shopping, cooking, cleaning, bathing and even dressing yourself. Depending on others can be upsetting, especially if you are used to being independent. Remember that this won’t last forever–you will get stronger, especially if you are able to walk and do your rehabilitation exercises daily.
The best treatment for a broken hip is to avoid it in the first place. Once you’ve had one, it’s important to take steps to prevent another broken bone. Since many broken bones result from tripping, slipping or loss of balance, you may wish to fall-proof your home, participate in balance training and learn exercises to increase your muscle strength.
Beyond Physical Healing
Aside from physical healing, recovery from any broken bone involves learning to cope emotionally, mentally, and spiritually with the changes the fracture may bring. In many cases, a fracture marks the first time you learn you have osteoporosis. In addition to coping with pain from the fracture and rehabilitation, you also must educate yourself about osteoporosis. There may be necessary, but beneficial, changes in lifestyle and activities that can protect your current bone health. After a fracture, you may feel that you tire more easily. You may feel depressed, especially when your body image has changed and you fear having more fractures. These challenges can be overwhelming at first. With time and support, however, you can learn to manage them.
To become more active and reduce the effects of osteoporosis on your body and your life, you’ll need to find safer ways to do everyday activities. You’ll also need to keep up a regular program of exercises to improve your strength, movement and flexibility. Always check in with your healthcare provider before you begin any exercise program.