Osteoporosis is often called the "silent disease," because most of the time, bone loss occurs without any symptoms at all. But when osteoporosis becomes severe, it can lead to fractures and a condition called kyphosis. Kyphosis is spinal compression, sometimes described as the "dowager's hump." Both fractures and kyphosis can be very painful. This pain is usually more severe than the typical "aches and pains" many people feel as they get older.
Fractures and Compression Cause Osteoporosis Pain
The most common cause of osteoporosis pain is a spinal compression fracture. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, or if you have several risk factors for osteoporosis, these symptoms may indicate a compression fracture:
- Sudden, severe back pain that gets worse when you are standing or walking
- Some pain relief when lying down
- Pain and difficulty in twisting or bending
- Loss of height
- Curvature of the spine
Bones are fragile in osteoporosis. Fractures and osteoporosis pain can occur even from simple movements that don't seem dangerous. Examples of these movements include lifting a bag of groceries, twisting to get out of a car, or tripping slightly on a rug or step.
Fractures can take months to heal. The pain should start to go away as the healing process progresses. However, for some people, osteoporosis pain can become chronic. Your doctor can recommend options for managing and reducing pain. These options include medication and other therapies.
Medication to Relieve Osteoporosis Pain
Medication is the most popular way to manage osteoporosis pain. Drugs include:
- Over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are safe pain relievers for most people. These may cause stomach irritation and bleeding or liver problems.
- Narcotics can help in the short-term with acute pain. They should not be used for chronic pain. They have troublesome side effects and can be addictive.
- Calcitonin is an osteoporosis drug sold under the brand names Miacalcin, Calcimar, or Fortical. Calcitonin may help relieve pain associated with bone fractures.
- Antidepressant medication is sometimes prescribed to help people cope with chronic pain. These medications may be prescribed when other forms of pain relief have not helped.
Physical Therapy for Osteoporosis Pain
Doctors and therapists may also suggest physical therapy techniques for controlling osteoporosis pain. These include:
- Heat and ice. Both heat and cold can be effective at relieving pain. Warm showers or hot packs can ease stiff muscles. Cold can numb the painful area. Cold can also reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Physical therapy. Osteoporosis pain may make it difficult for you to be physically active. However, inactivity may make pain worse by leaving you weakened. A physical therapist can work with you on a safe, effective exercise program.
- Braces and supports. A back brace can relieve pain after a spinal fracture. A brace may also allow you to move around normally while the fracture is healing. But if you depend on the back brace too long, it can weaken your muscles. If you use a brace, begin exercising to strengthen back muscles as soon as your doctor says it is safe.
- Acupuncture, acupressure, and massage therapy. These treatments all may help relieve pain and tension. If you have osteoporosis pain from spinal fractures, be sure that you talk with your doctor before seeing a massage therapist.