Preventing Recurring Osteoporosis Fractures
Lifestyle Habits and Surgical Options
Question: My mother has osteoporosis-related spinal compression fractures. Only one fracture is healing, and she has developed multiple fractures from simple things, such as getting out of bed or going to the bathroom. What can she do to stop the recurring fractures?
Answer: It's sometimes hard to imagine how fragile your bones can become if they're weakened by osteoporosis. Even just rolling over in bed, as you mention, can cause a spinal compression fracture.
Your mother has had multiple compression fractures, but it's worth letting our other readers know that if you have one fracture, your risk for developing more fractures increases for a number of reasons. These include the progressive softening of the bone due to inactivity, the progressive stooping due to multiple fractures, and the difficulty eating due to compression of the abdomen. The spine essentially becomes like the Leaning Tower of Pisa; the more it leans the more it wants to lean.
That's why it's so important to take necessary steps to prevent future fractures immediately after your first fracture—but of course, it's most ideal to start putting preventative measures in place long before that. To learn more, read about the importance of osteoporosis prevention.
Fortunately, there are lifestyle habits that may help prevent more fractures. These include:
- "Fall proofing" your home: There are a number of simple measures your mother can take to greatly reduce the chance of falls—and in turn, fractures. Put skid-proof mats under area rugs to prevent slipping, make sure floors are free of clutter, use a non-skid rubber mat in the shower, and make sure your home is well-lit. To learn more about preventing falls at home, read this article.
- Stop smoking: You don't mention if your mother smokes. But if she does, then it's contributing to the weakening of her bones and increasing her fracture risk. You learn more about tobacco's impact on your bones by reading an article about smoking and osteoporosis.
- Diet: Is your mother getting enough nutrients to promote bone health? Namely, calcium and vitamin D? These nutrients work together to maintain and build healthy bones. And even if you already have osteoporosis, it's still helpful to boost your intake of calcium and vitamin D. The typical recommendation is 1500 mg of calcium and 800 units of Vitamin D daily. Your mother should be evaluated by an osteoporosis specialist to determine the exact amount she may need.
- Anti-osteoporosis drugs: Depending on your mother's bone density, she may be a candidate for a number of medications (either alone or in combination) to help slow further the loss bone or actually reverse the loss of bone.
The bisphosphonate group of medications has been shown to slow the loss of bone and reduce the risk of further osteoporotic fractures. Parathyroid hormone substitutes have also been shown to reverse the loss of bone and reduce the number of subsequent fractures. Your mother should be evaluated by a osteoporosis specialist to see if she is a candidate for either of these treatments.
Your mother may also want to consult her doctor about the possibility of surgery. There are two minimally invasive techniques that successfully treat compression fractures—vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. These procedures may reduce pain and strengthen the vertebrae that are weak to minimize any further progression—thus preventing future fractures.
You don't mention if your mother has lost height from her multiple fractures, but kyphoplasty also has the added benefit of restoring height. To learn more about these procedures, read this article about kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty.
One spinal fracture is painful, but multiple fractures can be debilitating. By adopting certain lifestyle habits, ensuring a proper diet, using the correct medications, and learning more about surgical options, you can be proactive about managing osteoporosis and preventing spinal compression fractures.