Have Osteoporosis? Why Your Spine, Wrists & Hips Are at Risk
As someone with osteoporosis, you already know you’re at risk for a fracture. Yet here’s something else to keep in mind: It’s important to make sure your current treatments are really working. If not, just a cough or a sneeze could result in a broken bone.
The parts of your body most likely to fracture? Your spine, wrists and hips. Here’s what you need to know about these vulnerable sites and why you and your doctor should ensure you’re receiving the treatment that provides the best protection. By age 50, the lifetime risk of fracture is 50% in women and 25% in men, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Why you’re at risk: The bones that form the spine are softer and spongier than other bones. Pressure can build up on the fragile bones in your back, making the spine so sensitive that simply moving the wrong way can cause a fracture. In fact, spinal, or vertebral, fractures are the most common bone breaks caused by osteoporosis.
The signs: You may experience back pain or poor posture or notice you are getting shorter. It’s also possible not to experience any symptoms.
Recovery: Spinal fractures can take several weeks of rest and exercise to heal.
Why you’re at risk: Around menopause, women with osteoporosis have lost a lot of bone density, making wrists special targets during a fall or other accident. Broken wrists are most common in people under the age of 75.
The signs: Most people know when they have broken a wrist because of the intense pain and swelling.
Recovery: It can take up to eight weeks or longer to heal a broken wrist. You will likely have to wear a cast or splint and may even need surgery, depending on the type of break. A physical therapist can teach you exercises that can help you regain strength and improve your range of movement.
Why you’re at risk: Osteoporosis takes a special toll on the hips. A hip bone can become so weak that even a minor fall can cause a break.
The signs: Symptoms include pain and aches in the groin area. Your injured leg may also seem shorter. Many people with hip fractures are unable to bear any weight or walk.
Recovery: Unfortunately, hip fractures can involve serious complications requiring surgery. They may take months to heal and can force you to reduce your activity. During recovery from a hip injury, most people will need some kind of assistance and will likely need to use a wheelchair or walker. In the best case, it can take three months of exercise after surgery to regain your strength and the full use of your leg. Sadly, many people who experience a hip fracture require nursing home care.
Alert! Pain is the most obvious sign that you have broken a bone. If you suspect a problem, don’t wait to get treated. Your doctor or an orthopedic specialist can confirm the diagnosis with an X-ray. And while it may seem logical to dismiss a broken wrist or hip as being due to a fall, it’s important to tell your primary care physician about any broken or fractured bones. He or she may recommend a bone mineral density test to see if osteoporosis was really the underlying cause.