When you hear the word osteoporosis, you might immediately think about the long bones in the body that are vulnerable to breaking, such as an arm or leg bone. However, osteoporosis affects every bone in your body, including the small bones that make up your spine.
Keep reading to learn more about how osteoporosis affects spine health and what you can do to recover from the changes that occur.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Bones are living tissue, and they are always changing as time passes. Sometimes, those changes are not for the better; osteoporosis occurs when bones begin to lose their structural integrity.
Your bones contain your body’s largest storage of calcium — a mineral needed for nerve function and other cell mechanics. When someone has osteoporosis, this mineral leeches from the bones, resulting in bones that have holes and areas of weakness. Instead of being resilient, the bones turn brittle and are unable to absorb the pressure and shock of daily motion.
People with osteoporosis are more prone to bone breaks. But, because bones are living tissue, people can also experience pain as their bones get weaker.
What Happens to the Spine During the Development of Osteoporosis?
The spine is often one of the most overlooked sets of bones in the body, but these bones are arguably some of the most essential and the most delicate. Spine vertebrae are especially at risk when someone has osteoporosis.
The bones in your spine are so easy to fracture because the spine is involved in nearly every movement your body makes. Every time you bend, twist, wave, or even just sit down, your spine works to assist you. It has to be a structure that is simultaneously flexible and strong.
If the bones are weakened due to reduced mineral structure, your spine becomes increasingly fragile. Falling, moving too quickly, or lifting something from the ground can cause the bones to fail and create compression fractures that reduce mobility and cause extreme pain.
As your bones lose mass the shape of the vertebrae changes as well. They become more flat, reducing the amount of support the spine itself gives to your core. If this happens, you will find it more difficult to stand up straight.
What Can You Do to Protect Your Vulnerable Spine?
Once you know that you have osteoporosis, you need to work with your doctor to protect yourself from injury. Your doctor might suggest adapting your movements to reduce the amount of stress on your spine.
For example, you might have lifting restrictions to prevent damage. You might not be able to lift or carry anything large, awkward, or heavy. These restrictions will not only protect your spine from injury from lifting and carrying but also reduce the risk of falling because of uneven weight distribution. Falls are often the cause of vertical, compression fractures in the spine.
You also might need to invest in supportive furniture, such as a mattress that provides good lumbar back support when laying down. Seats for your car and your desk should also cushion and protect the spine.
Can You Improve Your Bone Health?
Osteoporosis is treatable and even preventable. Younger people should take care of their bones by eating diets with enough calcium and by staying physically active. Resistance training helps to retain bone density.
After you start to lose bone density, you should take even greater care to stop or slow the progression of bone weakness. Your doctor will recommend calcium supplements and regular, low-intensity exercise.
However, once bones have lost some of the their shape, such as what happens in the spine, the damage can’t be fixed by diet and physical therapy. You may be able to rehabilitate compressed vertebrae with rest and a brace that supports the spine as it heals.
Sometimes, the bones are not healthy enough to repair themselves in a way that will allow you to regain mobility and reduce your pain. In these cases, your doctor might recommend surgery to reduce the pain of compressed or compromised bones.
The two most common surgical procedures for repairing the spine include kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty.
Kyphoplasty is a surgical procedure that uses a needle to inject a balloon-like object into the fractured vertebra itself. Then the balloon is inflated to help regain the height that was lost due to compression. Once the balloon is removed, the empty space left behind can be filled with a type of cement that will support the compromised bone.
This procedure can help to better posture, reduce the pressure on the muscles and nerves in the back that cause pain, and provide strength to areas that have become weaker over time.
Vertebroplasty is similar to kyphoplasty, but no balloon tamp is used. Instead, the surgery relies on the volume of the cement to open and fill the space in the compressed bone.
For more information on how osteoporosis affects your spine, contact us at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates.