Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder that causes our bones to become very thin and weak. Our bones are naturally porous, but in those with osteoporosis, those pores are much larger than they are in healthy bone. This condition affects the bones throughout the body, including the spine. Unfortunately, there are a lot of common misunderstandings about osteoporosis and how it can affect us. Let’s set the record straight on some of the most common beliefs about osteoporosis.
1. Osteoporosis is a common condition.
Fact. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) reports that approximately 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass. It is responsible for 2 million broken bones and $19 million in related medical costs each year, and experts predict that by 2025 those numbers will grow to 3 million fractures and $25.3 billion in medical costs annually.
2. Osteoporosis only affects older women.
Myth. Although this condition is more common in women over the age of 50, men can develop it as well. NOF estimates that 2 million American men currently suffer from osteoporosis, and 12 million more are at risk of developing it. Men and women also share a lot of the common risk factors for osteoporosis, including family history, taking steroid medications, lack of exercise, smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, and low testosterone levels.
3. Osteoporosis can cause hunched-over posture.
Fact. Osteoporosis can weaken the vertebrae in the spine, causing them to narrow or shrink. Over time, this can cause a rounded upper back, creating a “hunched-over” look. Some patients with osteoporosis also find that their height decreases over time. This change in posture is often painful, as the unnatural curve in the spine strains the muscles and ligaments in the back. Changes in the vertebrae can also result in pinched nerves.
4. I will be able to feel it if my bones are getting weaker.
Myth. Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease” because you cannot feel your bones getting weaker. Many people are unaware that they have osteoporosis until they suffer a fracture. Even then, spinal fractures are not always painful, and some patients don’t discover they have osteoporosis until they lose height and their posture is affected by the vertebral fractures. However, a bone mineral density test can help to identify osteoporosis. If you have risk factors for osteoporosis, including a family history, you may want to consult with your healthcare provider to get tested and develop a plan to preserve protect your bone density.
5. Osteoporosis puts you at a high risk for spinal fracture.
Fact. Because osteoporosis can cause severe weakness of the bones, the vertebrae the spine become highly susceptible to fracture. While a vertebral fracture may happen as the result of a fall, it can also happen during everyday activities. Even coughing, sneezing, or bending over to pick up an object can result in a vertebral fracture for someone who has osteoporosis.
6. We can’t do anything to prevent osteoporosis.
Myth. While some risk factors, like age, gender, and family history, cannot be controlled, other osteoporosis contributors can be controlled. You can make sure you have a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, and not too much sodium, protein, and caffeine. You also need to make sure you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D, whether through your diet or supplements. You should avoid smoking and having too much alcohol. Exercise can also be helpful in preventing osteoporosis, but try to avoid a too-low body weight, as this can increase your chances of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis can cause serious damage to the spine. Fortunately, with awareness, monitoring, and the right cautionary measures, the effects of this disease can be greatly reduced, if not altogether prevented.