Avoiding Fractures With Osteoporosis

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closeup of hand holding onto shower grab bar

Our bones thin and weaken as time goes on, which can lead to osteoporosis, a disease where the bones become very weak and easy to break. About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, leading to bone fracture in one in two women and one in four men. You can’t feel osteoporosis, so many people don’t even realize they have it until they break a bone. Bone density tests are important for earlier diagnosis, and the sooner you know you have osteoporosis, the sooner you can take steps to reduce your chances of a break.   

5 Things You Didn't Know About Osteoporosis

Spinal Compression Fractures: the Most Common Type of Osteoporosis Fracture

Every year, osteoporosis causes nearly 700,000 people to have a spinal (or veterbral) compression fracture. This type of osteoporosis bone fracture is nearly twice as common as osteoporosis hip or wrist fractures. As osteoporosis weakens the vertebrae, they can flatten and narrow. If too much pressure is placed on them, they can crack. Falling often causes osteoporosis spinal compression fractures, but so can merely sneezing. Reaching , twisting, and bumping into furniture are also common causes.

To determine if you’ve had a spinal compression fracture, your doctor will perform a physical exam. You’ll be asked to stand, and your doctor will check your posture and the alignment of your spine. Areas where you have pain will be pressed to assess whether the pain is coming from bones or muscles. Your reflexes and sense of sensation will also be evaluated to see if there has been damage to the nerves in your spine. If your doctor believes you may have a spinal compression fracture, imaging tests will be ordered to gather more information. These tests may include:

  • X-ray

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan

For most people, a spinal compression fracture can be treated with rest, a back brace, or pain medication, and they feel better within a few months. For other people, pain persists, and surgery may be necessary to help relieve it. Today, both traditional surgical and minimally invasive options are available.     

Know the Role Falls Play in Osteoporosis Fractures

Many studies have linked osteoporosis to changes in balance, walking gait, and the ability to avoid obstacles. All of these changes make falls more likely. One out of every five falls has steep consequences, including bone fracture and head injury. In fact, falling causes more than 95% of hip fractures alone. Falling once also doubles the odds of falling again.

What Increases Your Risk of Falls

Some medications can make you feel tired or dizzy, further increasing your chance of falling. Talk with your doctor about the prescription and non-prescription medicines you take, and if there’s a fall connection, ask about alternatives. Having a low level of vitamin D also increases the risk of falls in those with osteoporosis. Your doctor can test your level and recommend supplements or changes in your diet to get more vitamin D. A personalized risk assessment can uncover additional risks and help your doctor tailor your plan for bone health and fall prevention.

Ways to Help Prevent Falls and Fractures

Preventing falls is about facts, not fear. Some people become so afraid of falling that it interferes with their daily lives. They’re scared away from being active which, ironically, reduces their strength and makes them even more likely to fall. Try to put worry aside and real precautions in place. To make your home less fall-friendly:

  • Keep your floors clear of items you could trip over

  • Secure area rugs

  • Install railings on both sides of stairs

  • Keep stairs in good repair

  • Consider adding grab bars in your bathroom

  • Use bright lightbulbs for better visibility

To further support visibility, get your eyes checked annually and keep your glasses or contact lenses up to date. Talk to your eye doctor about whether your lens prescription could increase your risk of a fall by making it harder to judge distance. You may need different prescriptions for different activities. Your primary care physician can also work with you to identify ways to build your lower body strength and better your balance.  

Osteoporosis causes about two million bone fractures a year, but there’s a lot you can do to avoid them. Prioritize taking some simple precautions and asking your doctors for specific recommendations.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 6
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  6. Important
    Facts about Falls. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html
  7. Osteoporosis
    in Men. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/men
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