Osteoporosis itself isn't painful. But when the condition is severe, it can lead to fractures and other painful problems. It's important to have a long-term treatment plan.
The pain is usually more severe than the aches many people feel as they get older. But you don’t have to just grin and bear it. You and your doctor have a range of options to choose from to help you find relief.
Compression Fractures and Osteoporosis Pain
The most common cause of osteoporosis pain is a spinal compression fracture. It can cause:
- Sudden, severe back pain that gets worse when you are standing or walking with some relief when you lie down
- Trouble twisting or bending your body, and pain when you do
- Loss of height
- A curved spine called kyphosis, also known as a “dowager’s hump.”
Bones are fragile in osteoporosis. Fractures can happen even from simple movements that don't seem dangerous, for example lifting a bag of groceries, twisting to get out of a car, or tripping slightly on a rug.
Fractures can take months to heal. The pain should start to go away as the bone begins to repair itself. However, for some people, osteoporosis pain can last longer.
If you hurt, talk to your doctor. They can help you find ways to manage it.
Medication is the most popular way to manage osteoporosis pain. Your doctor can prescribe some for you or recommend some over-the-counter treatments you can buy at the drugstore. Meds that may help include:
- Pain relievers like acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. They’re safe for most people, but they may cause stomach irritation and bleeding or liver problems if you take them for a long time. So check with your doctor to be sure they’re OK for you.
- Prescription pain drugs. They can help you feel better in the short-term. But there are some that shouldn’t be taken for a long time. So they may not be a good choice if you have long-lasting pain from osteoporosis.
- Antidepressant medication. It can help people deal with chronic pain. Your doctor may prescribe one for you if you’ve tried other pain relief that hasn’t helped.
Your doctor may suggest other techniques that can help you ease your pain:
- Heat and ice. Warm showers or hot packs can ease stiff muscles. Cold can numb aching areas and reduce swelling.
- Physical therapy. Osteoporosis pain may make it hard for you to be physically active. But you may feel worse when you don’t move very much. A physical therapist can help you find a safe exercise program and teach you movements that can help you feel better.
- Braces and supports. A back brace can relieve pain after a spinal fracture. It can also let you move around normally while your spine is healing. But depending on one too long can make your muscles weaker. If you use a brace, begin exercising to strengthen your back muscles as soon as your doctor says it is safe.
- Acupuncture, acupressure, and massage therapy. These treatments all may help ease pain and tension. But be sure that you talk with your doctor before you try these treatments. They can let you know which ones are safe for you and what to look for in a practitioner.
Research has found that some types of psychological help can let people handle long-lasting pain. One or more of these mind-body therapies may work for you:
- Guided imagery helps you focus on positive words, phrases, or pleasing images. It keeps your attention off your pain.
- Relaxation training teaches you how to focus and breathe deeply. This relaxes muscles and relieves aches and tension.
- Biofeedbackuses a special machine that helps you learn to control basic body functions such as your heart rate and muscle tension. It can help you master relaxation skills and ease pain.
- Talk therapy can be helpful when your pain causes you emotional stress and depression. These feelings can make you hurt even more. A therapist can help you learn healthy ways to deal with stress that can make it easier to manage pain.
If medication, physical therapy, rest, or other techniques don’t work for your pain, your doctor may recommend surgery.
There are two types of surgery for treating compression fractures: vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. With vertebroplasty, your doctor uses a needle to inject a bone cement mixture into the fracture to help it heal. With kyphoplasty, your doctor inflates a small balloon in the fracture to create a hollow space. Then the doctor fills it with the bone cement mixture. These procedures seem to work best if you have them within 8 weeks of getting the spinal fracture.