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Osteoporosis and Spine Fractures

Ever have back pain and worry it might be a spinal fracture? Many people -- especially those with osteoporosis -- have severe back pain that's caused by spine fractures. A fractured spine can be extremely painful and also result in disfigurement and immobility.

What Is a Spine Fracture?

A spine -- or spinal -- fracture is any fracture involving the bones that make up your spinal column. Spine fractures can cause severe back pain that can make it difficult for you to stand, walk, sit, or lift objects.

Spine fractures sometimes are also referred to as vertebral compression fractures. A compression fracture is a fracture that’s caused by the compression of one bone against another. A vertebral compression fracture is a fracture involving vertebrae, which are the bones that make up your spine. The most effective way to prevent vertebral compression fractures is to prevent and treat osteoporosis.

In some cases, pain from a spinal fracture can be so debilitating that you have great difficulty making small movements. Spine fractures can make any position (standing or sitting) very uncomfortable. Spine fractures can also cause you to lose your independence.

Who’s at Greatest Risk for Spine Fractures?

Women, especially those older than 50, are at greatest risk for spine fractures. By age 80, about 40% of women have had a spinal fracture. Estimates put the number of vertebral fractures that occur each year at about 700,000.

Men can also have a spinal fracture, and women and men who have osteoporosis have an even greater risk of spine fractures.

Age plays a big role in spine fractures. As you age, your bones may become increasingly thinner and weaker. This is especially true if you have osteoporosis. The tremendous effort required to just hold your body erect can be enough to cause a spinal fracture.

Elderly adults with osteoporosis can stress their weak spines with constant bending. This bending causes pressure on the back that is equivalent to several times the weight of the body. This greatly increased pressure can lead to a spinal fracture.

For in depth information, see WebMD’s Osteoporosis Risk Factors: Are You at Risk?

What Are the Symptoms of a Spinal Fracture?

Although many people report some type of back pain, only one third of spine fractures actually produce painful symptoms. That makes early diagnosis of spine fractures extremely difficult. Fractures in the lower spine are associated with greater pain and loss of function than are fractures of the upper spine.

Symptoms of a spinal fracture may include:

  • sudden, severe back pain
  • worsening of pain when standing or walking
  • difficulty and pain when bending or twisting
  • loss of height
  • deformity of the spine -- the curved, "hunchback" shape also known as dowager’s hump

It is possible to fracture more than one bone in the spine. 

WebMD Medical Reference

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