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Back pain and osteoporosis bone fractures

Back pain is extremely common - more than 80% of adults have low back pain at some time in their life. Usually this is acute (short-term), but it can often be chronic (long-term), lasting for weeks or even months at a time. Sometimes chronic back pain may be due to fractures resulting from osteoporosis.

Why does an osteoporosis bone fracture cause back pain?

Back pain can be a sign that a compression fracture has occurred in the vertebrae - the bones that form your spine. Brittle, weak bones caused by osteoporosis are at the root of this problem. Compression fractures in the back are a major source of pain and disability for women, and some men, over 50 years old. Compression fractures in the back are also the most common type of fracture due to osteoporosis.

How does osteoporosis cause a bone fracture?

When bones are thin and brittle because of osteoporosis, the slightest activity can trigger a spinal compression fracture - that includes bending to pick up a small object or slipping on a stone while outside.

While most compression fractures cause no pain and are discovered because of an apparent loss of height, some fractures cause significant pain and disability. In more severe cases of osteoporosis, even coughing or sneezing can cause compression fractures that result in severe pain, deformity and immobility.

Do osteoporosis and bone fractures cause deformities in the back?

Small hairline fractures can eventually cause a vertebra to collapse. After a number of these small compression fractures, your back will exhibit the effects.

Spinal compression fractures can permanently alter the strength and shape of your spine. Because the spine is shorter, you will lose height.

Most compression fractures of the spine occur in the front of the vertebra. This causes the front part of the bone to collapse, creating a wedge-shaped vertebra because the back of the bone is unchanged. The result is the stooped posture called dowager’s hump.

What can be done for back pain and osteoporosis bone fractures?

About two-thirds of spinal compression fractures cause no symptoms and are never diagnosed. When they do cause back pain many people and their families think the back pain is merely a sign of ageing and due to osteoarthritis. So they don't seek medical care and put off seeing a doctor because they don't realise what's wrong.

However if you don't get treatment for the osteoporosis, the fractures will continue to occur in weakened bones. Untreated osteoporosis leads to more bone loss and future fractures - and each one may become more severe.

About 20% of patients with vertebral fractures will have another one within the year. A vertebral fracture also increases the chance of other future fractures such as a hip fracture. Osteoporosis treatment significantly reduces the chance of future fractures, although it does not guarantee that you'll never have another fracture.

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