Medical Progress

Back Pain and Osteoporosis Bone Fractures

Has a bone fracture been causing you extreme back pain? You’re not alone. More than 80% of adults have low back pain at some time in their life.

While back pain is usually acute (short-term), back pain can often be chronic. When it is, it does not go away for weeks or even months at a time. A recent U.S. survey showed back pain in adults significantly affects their quality of life:

  • 3 out of 4 end regular exercise or sport related activities because of back pain.
  • 3 out of 5 five are unable to do some part of their daily activities.
  • Almost 50% give up on sex because of back pain.

Why does an osteoporosis bone fracture cause back pain?

Back pain can be a sign that a compression fracture has occurred in the vertebrae — the bones that form your spine. Soft, weak bones caused by osteoporosis are at the root of this problem. In fact, compression fractures in the back are a major source of pain and disability for women over age 50. Compression fractures in the back are also the most common type of fracture due to osteoporosis.

How does osteoporosis cause a bone fracture?

When bones are thin and brittle because of osteoporosis, the slightest activity can trigger a spinal compression fracture. That includes bending to pick up a small object or slipping on a rock while out-of-doors.

While most compression fractures cause no pain and are discovered because of an apparent loss of height, some fractures cause significant pain and disability. In more severe cases of osteoporosis, even coughing or sneezing can cause compression fractures that result in severe pain, deformity, and immobility.

For in depth information, see WebMD’s Causes of Osteoporosis.

Do osteoporosis and bone fractures cause deformities in the back?

Small hairline fractures can eventually cause a vertebra to collapse. After a number of these small compression fractures, your back will show the effects.

Spinal compression fractures can permanently alter the strength and shape of your spine. Because the spine is shorter, you will lose height.

Most compression fractures of the spine occur in the front of the vertebra. This causes the front part of the bone to collapse, creating a wedge-shaped vertebra because the back of the bone is unchanged. The result is the stooped posture called dowager’s hump.

What can be done for back pain and osteoporosis bone fractures?

About two-thirds of spinal compression fractures cause no symptoms and are never diagnosed. When they do cause back pain, many people and their families think the back pain is merely a sign of aging and due to osteoarthritis. So they don’t seek medical care and put off seeing a doctor because they don’t realize what’s wrong.

The problem is, if you don’t get treatment for the osteoporosis, the fractures will continue to occur in weakened bones. Untreated osteoporosis leads to more bone loss and future fractures — and each one may become more severe.

About 20% of patients with vertebral fractures will suffer another one within the year. A vertebral fracture also increases the chance of other future fractures such as a hip fracture. Osteoporosis treatment significantly reduces the chance of future fractures, although it does not guarantee that you’ll never have another fracture.

For in depth information, see WebMD’s Osteoporosis Treatment.

What other problems occur with back pain and osteoporosis bone fractures?

Each spinal compression fracture can result in difficulty breathing. It can even lead to early death as you become susceptible to pneumonia and other serious problems. These fractures interfere with daily living activities such as bending,walking downstairs, or cooking.

Back pain and spinal fractures can also result in depression. You will needmedication to treat the pain. But the medication may disrupt your sleep, causeconstipation, and create more anxiety and depression. If you have more fractures, you may become fully disabled and lose your independence.

Who’s at highest risk for back pain and osteoporosis bone fractures?

People with osteoporosis are at highest risk for back pain caused by bone fractures. Other people who may experience back pain and bone fractures are those individuals with cancer that’s spread to the bones. Sometimes a bone fracture is the first indication of cancer, especially if the fracture occurs in someone who is neither elderly nor a postmenopausal woman.

Who’s at highest risk for bone fractures with osteoporosis?

Because osteoporosis is a silent, bone-robbing disease, you may have it and not know it. That’s why knowing your risk factors is so important. Here are the leading risk factors for osteoporosis:

  • Age: The risk rises rapidly in women over 50 and increases with age.
  • Early Menopause: Women who went through menopause before age 50 have an increased risk of osteoporosis.
  • Race: White and Asian women have the greatest risk.
  • Smoking: People who smoke lose bone thickness faster than nonsmokers.
  • Weight: Thin women are at higher risk.

Statistically, among people over age 50, osteoporosis strikes:

  • 20% of white and Asian women
  • 10% of Hispanic women
  • 5% of black women
  • 5% of men

And studies indicate that, among those who develop compression fractures, there is a 23% increase in mortality.

For in depth information, see WebMD’s Osteoporosis Risk Factors: Are You at Risk?

What are warning signs to be aware of with back pain?

If you have back pain plus any of the following warning signs, call your doctor immediately:

  • changes in your bowel or bladder habits
  • fever or weight loss
  • nerve damage that is severe or progressive
  • pain in your abdomen
  • pain that awakens you at night
  • pain that worsens with a cough or sneeze
  • pain, weakness, or numbness that travels down one or both legs
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