Spinal fractures due to osteoporosis are on the rise. In the U.S. there are more than 700,000 patients with spine fractures from osteoporosis each year, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation.
Spinal fractures – called vertebral compression fractures – are almost twice as common as other fractures typically linked to osteoporosis, such as broken hips and wrists.
The Vertebral Fracture Cascade
Bone loss begins at age 30, and accelerates after age 50. After 50, one in every four women is likely to have a spine compression fracture, unless they start a comprehensive bone health program immediately.
The risk is highest for Caucasian men and women. Spinal fractures are serious because one vertebral fracture often leads to another by causing deformity and weakening the other bones as they help repair the damage.
Part of the bone healing process requires that damaged bones borrow nutrients from otherwise healthy bones, causing the whole system to become weak. The International Osteoporosis Foundation calls this “the fracture cascade”.
Spinal Compression Fracture
While spinal fracture is serious and painful, you may be surprised to learn that vertebral fractures often go undiagnosed.
Only about 30% come to medical attention, most likely because vertebral fracture generally do not require emergency care, unlike hip and other osteoporotic fractures, and that the person suspects their sudden back pain is due to arthritis or a muscle strain.
Spine fractures not only cause pain at the time of the break, they can cause disability from hunching over – a severe case is known as a “dowager’s hump” – and long term pain because of change in shape of the spine that puts stress on the joints of the back.
As osteoporosis progresses, the vertebrae weaken and narrow, which means these spine fractures may occur from minor stress like sneezing, picking up something somewhat heavy, or a simple fall.
After a spine fracture from weak bones, the risk of dying within the next five years is increased by 16%.
Osteoporosis often develops unnoticed over many years, with no symptoms or discomfort until a bone breaks. A vertebral compression fracture is often a patient’s first sign of a weakened skeleton from osteoporosis, but that does not have to be the case!
There are many indicators of osteoporosis including a family history of the disease, poor diet, lack of exercise, and unhealthy lifestyle habits.
The risk of a second fracture can be reduced with better nutrition, exercise, and adding a supplement. Starting a bone health program is equally important to maintaining “healthy” bones, to prevent the first fracture from ever happening.
Healthy nutrition along with exercise is the best way to build bone strength naturally. Unfortunately, most exercises do not help to build bone in the spine.
Bone building requires some impact to exert pressure on bones that sparks growth. Walking is easy for older adults, but very little force is applied to the spine when walking in cushioned shoes, so it has little impact.
One of the best exercises to build spine bone is to do heel drops as much as sixty times a day, so long as your spine is healthy enough to take some impact. Check with your doctor first if you have any concerns about this exercise.
Doctors recommend a supplement for almost everyone with low bone density because it is difficult to get enough of the nutrients you need from normal food intake.
Physicians are likely to identify calcium and vitamin D deficiencies, but are less likely to identify deficiencies of silicon, vitamin K2, boron and other essential nutrients for spine health.
The insides of vertebrae have cancellous bone, a “spongy” bone, which is different from the hard bone of the hips, called cortical bone. This spongy bone in the spine is very important to help prevent weakening because the outside shell of a vertebra is thin compared to the thick outside shell of hip bones.
Take care of your spine health because spine fractures are the most common fracture that occurs from weak bones, and sadly spine fractures are the beginning of a downward spiral.