If you have osteoporosis, you know keeping your bones strong and protecting your spine are of the utmost importance. As you age, your bones weaken and are prone to fractures, especially after menopause. In fact, the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) reports that approximately 1 in 2 women over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis – but the disease affects men too (although in much smaller numbers). These fractures can cause pain, loss of height, and a hunched posture. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent the onset of the disease and to treat it early. So even if you haven’t been diagnosed, take heed and make your spine health a priority.
When Your Back “Breaks”
If you broke your arm, you’d most certainly know it and would take steps to remedy the situation as soon as possible. So it’s surprising that many people walk around with “broken” backs for months and even years without treating the fractures. How is that possible? It turns out, breaks in your vertebrae – the bones that make up your spine – can sometimes go unnoticed because they don’t snap in the way an arm or leg does. Instead, say Harvard researchers, a vertebra collapses like a paper cup does when you step on it. This is known as a compression fracture, and while it can cause dull or even sharp pain, about two-thirds of vertebral fractures have no symptoms at all. It’s not uncommon to discover a vertebral break during an unrelated x-ray or when you suddenly measure an inch shorter than you used to.
Treating Vertebral Fractures
If you have a fracture, you should see your physician right away if he or she isn’t already aware of the issue. Typically, you will be given over-the-counter pain relievers (if needed) and could be prescribed a temporary period of bed rest if the pain is severe. Sometimes a back brace is provided to help stabilize your spine and relieve pressure on the injured area. Fractures can take months to heal, but patients are encouraged to incorporate low-intensity exercise as soon as they can do so without pain. Even with the least invasive treatment options applied, some fractures will heal only with surgical intervention. The good news is that there are now more options than ever before. Among them are minimally invasive spine surgery options which are designed to reduce incision sizes, hospital stays, and recovery times – so you can get back to living the life you want sooner.
If you haven’t already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, your doctor will perform a bone mineral density test and determine whether you should began a regime of osteoporosis medications. These will help prevent new fractures in the future by improving mineral density (and some come with added pain-relieving benefits). Your physician will determine what is best for your situation. Osteoporosis was once thought to be an inevitable part of aging, but now researchers understand there is much you can do to protect yourself. As with most prevention efforts, the earlier you start, the better off you’ll be. Here are four tips to follow:
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D, either through supplements or your diet
- Eat a well-balanced diet with foods that are good for bone health, such as fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and fatty fish like salmon and sardines
- Avoid smoking and limit alcohol intake
- Stay active with regular exercise
Keep in mind, while exercise is an important part of maintaining bone health, the NOF warns that osteoporosis sufferers should steer clear of the following activities:
- Bending forward from the waist
- Twisting and bending too hard at the torso
- Carrying anything too heavy, such as packages or even young children
- Bending forward when coughing or sneezing
- Reaching for objects on a high shelf
- Abdominal exercises
- Reaching for your toes
Incorporating these positive lifestyle habits will help lower your risk of vertebral fractures as you age. Be sure to ask your doctor about the best approach to keeping your spine healthy so you can enjoy a pain-free existence well into your golden years.