How Osteoporosis Affects the Health of Your Spine

Osteoporosis, spine

As you age, your bones naturally lose strength. When you have osteoporosis, your bones become thin and very weak and are more likely to break. It typically develops over many years, and you may not have any symptoms until a bone breaks.

You’re more at risk of developing osteoporosis if you’re age 50 or older, and it’s more common in women, particulary those that are post-menopausal, than men. Women are also more likely to break bones than men. Osteoporosis commonly causes fractures that occur in the spine. Read on as we at Vascular Access Centers explain about how osteoporosis affects spinal health.

Spinal structure

The spine is composed of small bones called vertebrae. Patients who have osteoporosis tend to break bones in the thoracic spine, which is the upper part of the spine. The thoracic spine is the longest and most complex part of the spine. It is composed of 12 vertebrae and connects to the cervical spine (neck). The thoracic spine plays a key role in supporting your neck.

Osteoporosis and kyphosis

When the small vertebrae of the spine break, you can experience significant pain. This is most often described as sharp, consistent pain that doesn’t go away. People with osteoporosis often break one or more vertebrae in the spine. In the event that you don’t experience any pain, you may notice changes to the spine, such as a curvature. This is known as kyphosis.

Some patients who have kyphosis experience persistent pain because the muscles and other structures that support the spine become strained. Kyphosis can also cause pinched nerves due to narrowing of the spine and reduced space for the nerves to pass through.

For some people, kyphosis causes constant pain. This pain occurs when the spine becomes more curved and the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the back are strained and stretched. Sometimes nerves are also pinched.

How do spinal fractures occur?

Any weak bone is at risk of breaking. When you have osteoporosis, the bones of your spine can become weak, leaving your vertebrae at a high risk for fracture. Breaks can occur when there’s excess pressure on the weak vertebra.

If you have osteoporosis, you can break a vertebra doing everyday activities, such as twisting or reaching. Because your bones are thin and weak, you could even sustain a fracture from something as simple as coughing or sneezing.

What if you suspect you have a spinal fracture?

Back pain is the primary symptom of a spinal fracture. You may notice that the pain gets worse when you stand or walk, and you may feel relief when lying down. Stooped posture and trouble bending or twisting your body are common characteristics of spinal fracture.

Schedule a visit with your doctor if you are at risk for or suspect that you have a spinal fracture. Your Primary Care Physician will need to  perform a comprehensive physical evaluation and may order some imaging tests to get to the bottom of your symptoms. Should your diagnostic tests reveal a spinal compression fracture, you may be referred to Vascular Access Centers for treatment.

Treating osteoporosis spinal fractures

Treatment of osteoporosis spinal fractures may involve over-the-counter pain medication. If the pain is severe, your doctor may recommend prescription medication to control your pain. Short-term bed rest, ice packs and heat may also help.

A back brace can help stabilize your spine as it heals and may help control pain. A spinal fracture can take up to three months to heal.  

Vertebroplasty is a treatment option your doctor may recommend if conservative measures fail to provide pain relief. This outpatient procedure stabilizes compression fractures in the spine and is reserved for patients with severe pain. Vertebroplasty can relieve pain and improve mobility.

You can’t change many of the factors that increase your risk for osteoporosis, such as gender, genetics, and age. But you can take steps to manage your condition and reduce the chances of breaking bones.

To learn more about osteoporosis spinal pain treatment and management, schedule an appointment with one of our Vascular Access Centers specialists or request an appointment through our online portal.

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