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Osteoporosis and Spine Fractures

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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. 

What’s the Treatment for Spine Fractures?

An X-ray scan or a computerized tomography (CT) scan is typically used to determine whether or not you have a spinal fracture. Your doctor will analyze the image of the spine and determine the severity of the fracture.

Pain treatments will likely be prescribed and your doctor will encourage you to move around as soon as possible. Physical therapy might be ordered. Other treatments may include stabilization of the spine with a brace or procedures such as vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty. Some fractures may need surgery, depending on the severity.

Your doctor may also analyze your bone mineral density (BMD). To do that, he will ask for a DXA -- sometimes called DEXA -- scan. DXA stands for dual X-ray absorptiometry, which is the preferred technique for measuring BMD.

DXA is relatively easy to perform and the amount of radiation exposure is low. A DXA scanner is a machine that produces two X-ray beams. Each beam has a different energy level. One beam is high energy. The other is low energy. The amount of X-rays that pass through your bone is measured for each beam. This amount varies, depending on the thickness of the bone. Based on the difference between the two beams, the bone mineral density can be determined.

For in depth information, see WebMD’s Osteoporosis Treatment.

How Can I Prevent Spine Fractures?

A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, along with a regular weight-bearing and strengthening exercise program, is essential for preventing osteoporosis and spine fractures. Talk to your doctor about a bone mineral density test to see how strong your bones are. Then take prevention steps to keep them strong. It is never too early -- or too late -- to prevent bone loss.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 24, 2013
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