The Connection Between Osteoporosis and Spinal Fractures


August 23, 2023

As we get older, our bodies change in many ways. For some people, osteoporosis can develop, causing an increased risk of fractures. Understanding the causes and symptoms of osteoporosis can help with detecting the condition early and getting proper treatment.

Osteoporosis happens when your body does not create as much new bone as it loses. Contrary to popular belief, bone is living tissue that is being replenished over time. As we become older, sometimes our bodies stop producing enough new bone. Osteoporosis is more common in women because of lower bone mass, with white and Asian women at highest risk. However, anyone can get osteoporosis, particularly after the age of 70. There are no symptoms until a bone is broken.

Spinal fractures or vertebral compression fractures happen when the bones in the spine crack or break, causing significant pain and affecting the spinal cord. Trauma can also cause a burst fracture (vertebrae break into many pieces) or chance fractures (which happen when your vertebrae are pulled away from each other.

How Are They Connected?

Spinal fractures are often the first symptom of osteoporosis, although it can sometimes be detected sooner through a bone density test. However, not everyone with a spinal fracture has osteoporosis. Spinal fractures can also be caused by high velocity impacts, such as a car accident, a bad fall, or an injury during contact sport. Osteoporosis should be suspected if a spinal fracture occurs without a history of physical trauma, or after a minor fall. The kind of spinal fracture caused by osteoporosis is a compression fracture, which can develop slowly over time. Burst and chance fractures are caused by trauma.

How Can Osteoporosis be Prevented or Slowed?

Some bone density loss is normal with aging, and can accelerate after menopause. However, there are things you can do to prevent osteoporosis or slow its progression.

Here are some things you can do that help:

  • Eat a healthy diet, making sure to get enough calcium, vitamin D, and protein each day. Eat low fat dairy, leafy green vegetables, fish, or fortified juices and grains.
  • Check your vitamin D levels. A lot of people are deficient and you may benefit from a supplement.
  • If you smoke, quit. Talk to your doctor about cessation programs.
  • Do weight bearing exercise such as strength training, walking, hiking, jogging, tennis, or dancing. Take the stairs as much as you can. Weight bearing exercise encourages bone growth.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.

If you are at high risk of osteoporosis, such as having a family history, talk to your doctor about a bone density test. This can help show signs of bone loss before osteoporosis develops.

What Treatments Are Available for Osteoporosis and Spinal Fractures?

The first treatment for reduced bone density is lifestyle changes, matching the ones that are helpful for prevention. Your doctor may recommend quitting alcohol altogether. However, you may need other treatments. These include:

  • Taking steps to prevent falls. This might mean removing small floor rugs, installing grip bars in the shower, and being careful on stairs. Night lights can also help. Elderly people who are struggling with balance should use a cane or a walker. You may have to give up activities, such as cycling, that carry a high risk of dangerous falls.
  • Taking medication to reduce bone loss. This typically means one of a class of antiresorptive medications called bisphosphonates. These are chemicals that are absorbed into your bone and pull calcium with them.
  • Taking medication to increase bone mass. This means one of a group of anabolic medications.
  • If postmenopausal, hormone replacement therapy can also help restore bone mass.

Spinal fractures are typically treated conservatively with a short period of rest and some limited use of pain medications. You may also be told to wear a brace for a period of time. More severe spinal fractures may require surgery, known as vertebral augmentation procedures, that help support the vertebrae and return it to its normal position, which can reduce pain. However, this is only recommended if you have pain that does not respond to conservative treatment.

If you have low bone density and/or are recovering from a spinal fracture, Southeast Pain and Spine Care can help. Fill out the form below to schedule an appointment.

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