Osteoporosis is a condition that can pose a threat to your entire skeletal structure—not only the spine. The word “osteoporosis” literally translates to “porous bone.” If you have osteoporosis, your bones will begin to lose their density, becoming progressively more fragile. Often, patients exhibit no symptoms for osteoporosis early on, which means that the disease can go undiagnosed until the patient suffers a fracture. Because the spine is such a vital centerpiece to the entire body, osteoporosis of the spine is especially worrisome and is something you should discuss at length with your doctor as soon as you have a diagnosis.
Osteoporosis and Spinal Fractures
In general, osteoporosis dramatically increases a patient’s risk of bone fractures. Healthy bones are dense and durable, minimizing the risks of breaks and fractures in most situations. Porous bones are weak and insubstantial, which means it doesn’t take much for them to break or fracture. In the case of osteoporosis of the spine, porous spinal vertebrae put the patient at high risk of developing what is called a compression fracture.
The spine, of course, is essentially a stack of vertebrae, piled one on top of the other. When functional and healthy, your spinal vertebrae will work together to support bodily movement and to safeguard the spinal cord and the various nerves that connect to it. Osteoporosis can weaken the vertebrae in such a way that individual bones in the spine lose the ability to support the entire spinal structure. The problem may start with small hairline fractures, but it can escalate to the point where a vertebra collapses under the weight of the spinal stack. “Spinal compression fracture” is the term used to describe and diagnose this type of injury.
A spinal compression fracture is not always related to osteoporosis. Patients with bone cancer often experience this type of fracture, as well. The only real prerequisite necessary for a compression fracture to occur is a weakening of the bones in the spine. Osteoporosis is the most common cause of weakened bones, though, which means that compressional spinal fractures occur most often in patients with osteoporosis.
Protecting Your Spine to Prevent Compression Fractures
Compression fractures can lead to a range of symptoms, including severe chronic back pain, reduced range of motion in the spine, numbness or tingling in the spine, weakened muscles around the spine and back, and more. Patients who have suffered multiple spinal compression fractions will often lose height as a result. Since the weakest part of the vertebra is the front, many compression fractures only occur as a collapse of that front piece. This type of fracture, where the rear segment of the vertebra maintains its structure, but the front section does not, leads to a spinal deformity called kyphosis, which manifests as a stooped-over posture.
All these symptoms are most common among older adults. However, even as you age, there are steps you can take to lower your risk for vertebral compression fractures. Here are a few strategies we suggest for managing and minimizing the impact of osteoporosis and spinal fractures:
Adopt lifestyle habits that minimize your risk for osteoporosis
The best way to prevent spinal compression fractures is to prevent osteoporosis entirely. Once your bones start to lose density and structural integrity, there are only so many things you can do to avoid fractures. Exercising every day is a good start, especially weight-bearing exercises such as walking or jogging. These types of activities can both help increase bone strength and improve muscular strength and balance—both of which can reduce risk of falls. You should also consider upping your daily intake of calcium and vitamin D (both good for bone health), limiting alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking. Consult your doctor for advice on how you can manage your health to minimise osteoporosis risk.
Get a bone density test
As mentioned above, osteoporosis is often a silent disease, progressing without the patient’s knowledge until the first fracture occurs. Fortunately, there are things you can do to check your bone health. Getting a bone density test can either detect early signs of osteoporosis or give you a baseline for bone health. Bone density tests are particularly recommended for patients whose risk factors for osteoporosis are markedly high. Those at highest risk for developing osteoporosis are generally older, female, smokers, have rheumatoid arthritis, and have a history of fractures. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors.
Work with your doctor to develop an osteoporosis treatment strategy
Ideally, a bone density test will prove that your bones are healthy and strong. If the test shows that your bones are weakening and that you are at a relatively high risk for a vertebral compression fraction—or any fracture, for that matter—there are still things you can do to reduce risk. If your risk level is relatively low, your doctor might recommend a few lifestyle changes (such as the ones mentioned above). If you are at higher risk, meanwhile, your doctor may prescribe medication to help you. Bisphosphonates, the most common osteoporosis treatment option, are medications that prevent the loss of bone density. Hormone therapies have also proven effective in helping some patients who struggle with osteoporosis. Reduced bone density is often a symptom for women going through menopause. Estrogen hormone therapies can help prevent this reduction. Similarly, some studies have suggested that osteoporosis in men is linked to declining levels of testosterone—a trend that occurs naturally as men get older. Thus, testosterone therapies have also proven effective in helping maintain bone density in older men.
Talk to Your Doctor about Osteoporosis Treatment or Prevention Today
Ultimately, the best thing to do if you believe you might be at risk for osteoporosis or related compression fractures is to consult with your doctor. Your healthcare provider will be able to order a bone density test for you, share insights about your bone health, and share advice or design a treatment plan based on the findings. Dr Kushwaha would be happy to help give the answers you are seeking. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.