Osteoporosis of the Spine

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When most of us think about osteoporosis we think of a lack of calcium, and that is true; osteoporosis is a degenerative condition that diminishes bone density. This is where the whole 'lack of calcium' thing comes in, because bones that aren't dense enough are vulnerable to breaks and fractures.

Unfortunately osteoporosis is a fairly common occurrence in the back and spine of sufferers. So although osteoporosis is not strictly a back and spine problem, it does often affect the spine.

Understanding Osteoporosis of the Spine

One of the key characteristics of osteoporosis of the spine is compression fractures. These tiny vertical fractures weaken the spine, which is why sufferers often appear to have a hunched over posture. This does not happen overnight as it is a degenerative disease that takes time to fully present its affects.

Eventually osteoporosis of the spine will inevitably lead to chronic back pain as the hunched posture will place unnecessary pressure on the muscles in the back. As the spine continues to deteriorate micro-fractures will occur, further exacerbating back pain.

The cause of osteoporosis isn't overuse or trauma and injury. Many of the known causes of osteoporosis are demographic or genetic. For example age, race, gender and height are common factors that can increase the risk of osteoporosis. When we are young adults is when bones are their strongest but as we age our bones don't repair themselves as quickly, which weakens bone density.

Women are more likely than men to develop osteoporosis of the spine because of the hormonal changes that affect bone density. For women it is age and gender increasing the risk since estrogen levels decrease after menopause and this causes bone density to decrease quickly.

Those who suffer from some type of hormone imbalance such as hyperthyroidism, adrenal gland disorders or pituitary gland disorders, are at an increased risk of osteoporosis. The hormonal imbalance cause wreak havoc with other hormones that keep bones strong and thick.

Other factors that are thought-but not confirmed-to increase risk of osteoporosis of the spine include:

  • Body mass index (BMI) of 19 or lower.
  • Some cancer-fighting drugs
  • Heavy smoking or drinking (or both)
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Prolonged use of high dosage corticosteroids, particularly high doses to treat asthma or arthritis.
  • Malabsorption problems such as Crohn's or celicac disease.

Can Osteoporosis Be Avoided?

It would make sense that since many of the causes of osteoporosis are genetic or demographic, which we cannot change, that there would be little that can be done to prevent osteoporosis. While it is true that because of those factors we can't know how effective certain activities and behaviors will be at prevention, but they will reduce the risk of osteoporosis of the spine.

Adopting a healthy diet goes a long way to reducing the risk of many diseases and illnesses. In addition to nutrient-rich vegetables and fruit, a diet with an eye toward osteoporosis prevention should include foods rich in calcium, vitamin D, protein and magnesium. In addition to reducing your risk, these foods can assuage the severity of osteoporosis symptoms.

Avoiding high risk lifestyle behaviors can also go a long way to reduce the risk of osteoporosis of the spine. We know that excessive drinking and smoking can increase risk, so it would make sense that avoiding these risky behaviors can reduce risk. Quit smoking and enjoy your alcohol in moderation and you can reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

Exercise, particularly resistance exercises, is another lifestyle behavior that can reduce your risk of osteoporosis since we know that prolonged inactivity can increase risk as well. But some studies have indicated that exercise can improve bone density.

Just don't go too crazy at the gym however, because too much exercise may improve your chances of developing osteoporosis.

Of course prevention of osteoporosis of the spine is complicated because some people are at an increased risk such as Asian and European women, but these preventive measures can reduce that risk tremendously. The risk for each person varies but a healthy lifestyle and diet can not only reduce risk but also reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Speak with your physician and nutritionist to come up with a diet and lifestyle overhaul that will reduce your risk of osteoporosis, as well as the severity and onset of symptoms.

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