Osteoporosis and Spine Fractures

When osteoporosis has made your bones weak, the chances are higher that they’ll crack or break, even the bones of your spine. These spine fractures, also called vertebral compression fractures, can cause severe back pain that makes it hard to stand, walk, sit, or lift objects.

The best way to prevent these fractures is to keep your bones as strong as possible by treating or preventing osteoporosis.

Spine Fracture Symptoms

Many people report some type of back pain when they have a spine fracture, but others don’t have any symptoms. That makes it hard for doctors to diagnose the problem early on. But over time, symptoms of a spinal fracture may include:

  • Sudden, severe back pain
  • Pain that gets worse when you stand or walk
  • Trouble bending or twisting your body
  • Loss of height
  • A curved, stooped shape to your spine

Fractures in the lower spine often cause greater pain and trouble moving than those in the upper spine. It is possible to fracture more than one bone in the spine.

Who’s Most Likely to Get Spine Fractures?

Women, especially those older than 50, are most likely to get spine fractures. By age 80, about 40% of women have had one.

Your age makes a difference, too. As you get older, your bones become thinner and weaker, and you’re more likely to have osteoporosis. Women and men who have osteoporosis have much higher chances of getting spine fractures.

What’s the Treatment for Spine Fractures?

To know if you have a spine fracture, your doctor will give you an X-ray or a computerized tomography (CT) scan to get a closer look at your bones. If he finds one, he’ll talk with you about the best way to treat it.

You’ll probably get medicine to relieve your pain while the fracture heals. Your doctor will also encourage you to move around as soon as possible. Physical therapy might be a good idea, too -- a therapist can teach you exercises to help with your injury. Some people need more support for their spine with a brace or surgery.

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Having one fracture means you’re more likely to have another, so your doctor may also talk to you about taking medicines that treat osteoporosis and make your bones stronger.

Your doctor may also want you to have a bone density test called a dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA) scan. It’s the best way to diagnose osteoporosis. If you start taking medicine to build your bone strength, you may get a scan every so often to see how well the treatment is working.

How Can I Prevent Spine Fractures?

The best way to prevent them is to prevent osteoporosis. Even if you already have it, you can take steps to keep it from getting worse. Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, and get regular exercise, especially the weight-bearing and muscle strengthening kinds. Ask your doctor if you need a bone mineral density test to see how strong your bones are. It is never too early -- or too late -- to prevent bone loss.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 06, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

National Osteoporosis Foundation: “Medications To Prevent and Treat Osteoporosis.”

National Osteoporosis Foundation: “Once is Enough: A Guide to Preventing Further Fractures.” 

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “About Osteoporosis: Impact," “Nutrition and Bone Health.” 

McIlwain, H., MD, and D. Bruce, PhD, Diet for a Pain-Free Life, Morrow, 2007.

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