While osteoporosis is often associated with hip fractures, experts warn that small bones in the spine (33 vertebrae in all) are also prime targets for the bone damaging condition. In fact, more than 700,000 spinal fractures due to osteoporosis (double the number of broken hips) occur each year.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, roughly two out of three spinal fractures (also called vertebral compression fractures or VCFs) go undiagnosed and untreated, mistaken for a pulled muscle or part of normal aging.
And the stakes are high: having one of these fractures raises the risk of new breaks. Left untreated, people can lose height and develop a “hump” back (medical name: kyphosis) that threatens appearance, mobility, and overall health. You are at increased risk for VCFs if:
- You are age 50 (or postmenopausal) or older
- You have osteoporosis or low bone mineral density
- You have had a prior spine (or other bone) fracture after age 50
- You have a family history of osteoporosis, fractures, or kyphosis
Fortunately, several options can help ease pain and shore up backbones. Wearing a brace and taking pills to boost bone density can help. One minimally invasive procedure called kyphoplasty uses a balloon to lift the fractured bone and return it to the correct position. Then, doctors stabilize the fracture with cement to restore height and lower the risk for future fractures.
Protect your spine. Take a one-minute risk test at worldosteoporosisday.org, and ask your healthcare provider about a bone density test. If you suspect a spinal fracture, see your doctor or a spine specialist as soon as possible.