May is Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, and our physicians sat down to give us some prevention tips and treatment methods on a serious part of osteoporosis: spinal fractures.
Nearly 10 million Americans currently have osteoporosis, and about 18 million are at risk of developing it. A major concern for those with osteoporosis is fracture, specifically a spinal fracture (vertebral compression fracture). Out of that substantial number of 10 million, about two million will experience a fall or fracture each year.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease that affects bone density. When bones become porous, by either losing their density or by not developing enough density, they become weak and are at risk of breaking.
“Osteoporosis is dangerous because many patients are unaware that they are at risk, or that they even have it until they break a bone,” says Rebound neurological surgeon, Dr. Norman Rokosz. “This is why we often refer to it as a ‘silent disease’.”
This weakening of the skeleton is most commonly associated with age, and many people do not experience symptoms until they break a bone.
Why are spinal fractures common for osteoporosis patients?
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, nearly 700,000 patients suffer from spinal fractures each year. Because osteoporosis is a disease of the bone, the spine is also affected.
Our spine is comprised of small bones, or vertebrae, which weaken as the diseases progresses. The mid-chest and lower back areas are most susceptible to fracture.
“If someone with osteoporosis falls or puts too much pressure on their back, these small bones may crack. Osteoporosis puts your bones in a very delicate position, to the point where even a sneeze or cough could cause a fracture,” says Dr. Rokosz.
What are the side effects of a spinal fracture?
Some spinal fractures are less severe and heal on their own. Common issues associated with osteoporosis and spinal fractures include decreased height, back pain, curved spine, hunched posture and difficulty sleeping.
How are spinal fractures treated?
“Most initial treatment is nonsurgical, but if a patient is still experiencing pain and not healing, we may recommend surgery,” says Dr. Rokosz.
A typical fracture may heal within six to eight weeks, if proper measures are taken (rest and limited movement). Wearing a brace may help you heal faster, because of the support it offers to the vertebrae and its ability to reduce movement that lengthens recovery time or causes additional fractures.
If surgery is necessary, Rebound offers two minimally invasive procedures to relieve pain and correct the fracture.
In some cases, our surgeons will insert a balloon tamp at the site of the fracture, which fills the vertebra with a special cement. This is called kyphoplasty. Vertebroplasty is another similar surgical solution, where our surgeons inject the cement directly into the vertebra.
How can you prevent spinal fractures?
Understanding your spine and how movement impacts your risk for fracture is vital.
“Whether you’re exercising or going about routine activities, like lifting groceries or taking out the trash, there are ways you can move that place less pressure on your spine. It is important to know your limits, too,” says Dr. Rokosz.
If you have osteoporosis, you should avoid bending or twisting your spine (especially from the waist or torso) and reaching for high or heavy objects.
“Take precautions to protect your spine. If something may be too heavy, or an exercise routine appears high-impact, we would recommend avoiding it,” says Dr. Rokosz.
Exercise is not off the table, though. It is important to do exercises that are specifically geared toward osteoporosis, balance to prevent falls and strengthening the muscles around your spine. Here are some great examples from National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Before testing out these exercises, be sure to speak with a physician. Our physicians can help create a routine that is right for you and considers your risk factors.
If you would like to speak with one of our physicians regarding spinal fractures and treatment options, please give us a call or request an appointment online.