As the bone-thinning condition known as osteoporosis (OP) advances, bones of the spine sometimes become so weak and brittle that they develop small cracks called vertebral compression fractures. While it’s possible to have tiny bone breaks without even knowing it, fractures within spinal bones can also contribute to deformities such as kyphosis (hunchback) and symptoms that may include general weakness, numbness and tingling sensations, and localized or radiating pain. If you have OP and you want to protect your spine, here’s what you can do.
Spinal fractures caused by osteoporosis aren’t always obvious based on symptoms alone, so get into the habit of visiting your doctor on a regular basis. Going to the doctor is also a good way to have your treatment plan periodically updated to reflect your current needs and goals, which might involve recommendations for bisphosphonates and similar medications that may reduce your compression fracture risk. Even if you haven’t yet been officially diagnosed with OP, you may benefit from preventative screenings if:
• You’re female, postmenopausal, or over the age of 50
• You have a family history of osteoporosis
• You’re thin and small or have a low body weight
• You’ve had previous issues with spinal fractures due to other reasons (e.g., a fall or an injury)
If you have low bone mass or osteoporosis, the foods you eat are even more important when it comes to maintaining optimal spine health. Pay particular attention to your intake of calcium and vitamin D. Should you find it difficult to get sufficient amounts of these bone-supporting nutrients from dairy products, nuts, certain types of fish such as canned salmon and sardines, and green leafy vegetables, your doctor may recommend supplements.
It can also be helpful to adjust your lifestyle so it no longer includes the following habits that can also weaken bones and increase your risk of experiencing fractures:
• Smoking and using other tobacco products
• Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol
• Drinking a lot of soda and not much water
Note: Talk to your doctor about your diet habits if you plan to take calcium supplements, since too much calcium can contribute to kidney stones and other issues.
An inactive lifestyle can gradually weaken bones and speed up the rate of bone loss. Weight-bearing activities, on the other hand, are good for the bones. There’s also research suggesting resistance training may strengthen bones and the muscles that support them.
Specific types of exercise that strengthen bones can prevent the need for spinal decompression surgery such as a vertebroplasty procedure. Los Angeles residents should be aware that while activities such as brisk walking, some racquet sports, and low-impact aerobics may lower the odds of experiencing osteoporotic fractures, some activities may be a bit too stressful on spinal bones affected by OP. For instance, activities such as touching your toes, lifting heavy weights, and doing sit-ups may place too much strain on your spine.
Don’t ignore signs suggesting you could have a vertebral compression fracture. If you do, you may end up with a spinal deformity or nerve-related damage. Common symptoms of vertebral compression fractures linked to osteoporosis include:
• Back pain that develops suddenly
• Pain that gets worse when walking or standing
• Reduced spinal mobility
• Pain that goes away when resting on your back
Posture is equally important if you have osteoporosis. Because of a loss of vertebral height, this means making an effort to stand up straight and sit so your head and shoulders are aligned. Also, avoid slouching and other forward movements along with excessive twists of your spine, especially when lifting or moving something or getting out of bed. Spine damage related to osteoporosis may be successfully treated with procedures involving bone cement and/or a special surgical balloon (vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty).
If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you’re at higher risk of developing vertebral compression fractures, so make sure to follow these suggestions to keep your spine as strong as possible. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a spinal compression fracture, see your Los Angeles spine surgeon right away for diagnosis and prompt treatment. The spinal health experts at The Spine Institute are leaders in the field of spine surgery and innovative treatment for back and neck pain. Call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment with an industry-leading back health professional.