Spinal Fractures: Are you at risk?
Even if your bones are becoming weaker due to osteoporosis or osteopenia, you likely won’t feel it. For most people, the first indication that they are losing bone density is a spinal compression fracture (also known as a vertebral compression fracture or VCF). While bone loss can affect anyone, there are certain risk factors that may make you more susceptible to painful spinal compression fractures.
Spinal Compression Fractures Risk Factors
- Aging: As we age, our bones naturally lose some density and become weaker, so the risk for fracture increases as you get older.
- Being female: Bone loss is more common in women, especially post-menopausal women. Women lose bone mass at an accelerated rate in the first 5-7 years after menopause. During menopause, women experience a steep drop in estrogen, which is a female sex hormone that protects bones. When estrogen levels decrease, bones may lose density and become prone to fractures.
- Taking certain medications: Some drugs may harm bone health. From oral steroids to anti-depressants and diabetes drugs, medications can weaken your bones while treating a separate condition. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about all the medications you’re taking. He or she will assess whether the benefits of those medications outweigh the risks and discuss whether other options should be pursued.
- A pre-existing spinal fracture: It sounds obvious, but having 1 spinal fracture greatly increases your chances of having another. Over time, multiple fractures can cause a loss of height and may affect your posture. And, if your vertebral compression fractures occur in the thoracic spine (mid to upper back), you may notice your spine starting to hunch forward. Your doctor may refer to this forward curve as a condition called kyphosis.
- Unhealthy lifestyle habits: Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and/or living a sedentary lifestyle can affect healthy bone density. Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption affects your body’s ability to absorb calcium. Avoiding exercise can make bones weak, making them prone to bone loss. Learn more about how your lifestyle affects your bones.
Preventing Spinal Compression Fractures
One of the common misconceptions about spinal fractures is that they only occur as a result of serious injury or trauma. However, fractures can occur during everyday activities, such as bending over to lift something or carrying a heavy bag of groceries. It’s important that you not ignore back pain—even if it seems ordinary. Your back pain could actually be caused by a spinal fracture.
Proper diagnosis and early treatment are essential to preventing fractures from causing serious pain and problems (eg, if your fracture is pressing on your spinal cord or harming your mobility). Schedule a bone mineral density test, and talk to your doctor about any back pain or changes in your posture. A physical exam, along with other diagnostic tests, can help determine whether your back pain may be due to a spinal compression fracture.