Many people with osteoporosis don’t realize they have the disease, so they’re not doing anything to treat it. But the threat of broken bones from it is real and can lead to chronic pain and other health problems.
The most common broken bones, also called fractures, are to vertebrae -- the little bones that make up your spine. About 700,000 happen every year. A series of little fractures to your spine can eventually cause it to compress. This can cause severe pain and lead to a loss in height. It can also lead to a condition called kyphosis, sometimes called "dowager's hump." It’s a severe rounding of the upper back.
Many osteoporosis fractures (about 300,000 every year) involve the hips. These breaks can be dangerous and debilitating and can even lead to death. They can lead to other complications. Only half of people with hip fractures are able to return to the same level of ability they had before the break. It can leave you unable to care for yourself. One in 4 people require nursing home care afterward.
What You Can Do
Know your risk of osteoporosis. Postmenopausal women over age 50 are most likely to get osteoporosis. But men make up 20% of all cases.
You’re also at higher risk if:
- You have a small, thin frame.
- You have a family history of the disease.
- You take steroids or other medications that increase the risk.
- You have other conditions that put your at risk, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- You smoke.
There are steps you can take to protect yourself from osteoporosis and related complications. Eating a diet rich in vitamin D and calcium is a good start. Ask your doctor about supplements if you don’t get enough of those essential bone-building elements in what you eat. Osteoporosis drugs may help. Talk to your doctor to see if they’re right for you. Regular exercise helps build strong bones, too.
Although fractures from osteoporosis can take months to heal, sometimes the pain can linger for months or years. There are many treatment options for the discomfort, including:
- Heat and ice
- A brace
- Physical therapy, including massages, acupuncture, and acupressure
- Mind-body techniques such as guided imagery, biofeedback, and relaxation training
Ask your doctor about what’s best for you.