Categorized | Health

What women need to know about spinal fractures

By Kathleen Cody

When you think of women’s health issues, spinal fractures probably don’t come to mind. But they should be on your list. Our backs have taken a beating throughout our lives and as we get older, the risk of damage to these important bones increase. Spinal fractures, left undetected and untreated, can cause a very prominent hunch back and can be deadly.

Spinal fractures are the most common fracture that result from osteoporosis. More than 900,000 spinal fractures occur every year in the United States alone, according to industry estimates and research. They occur more often than hip fractures in any one year. Unlike a hip fracture, the risk of death following a spinal fracture continues to increase progressively.

Spinal fractures can occur spontaneously or from the minimal stress of day-to-day activities. Sometimes there is no pain and the fracture goes unnoticed, but sometimes there is extreme pain. Sadly, only about one third of these fractures ever receive medical attention.

The main cause of spinal fractures is osteoporosis, which silently robs you of the density in your spinal bones. Think of the spinal bones as a stack of square building blocks with mesh interiors. Osteoporosis causes the mesh architecture inside the blocks to deteriorate, eventually causing micro-fractures.

As micro-fractures accumulate, the blocks become weaker and less able to resist the flexing and twisting we have come to expect them to handle. Most frequently, compression fractures occur in the upper back, leading to the commonly called “dowager’s hump” or kyphosis.

In addition to loss of height, there are other signs you may recognize that might be due to spinal fractures. Do your clothes not quite fit right? Are you developing a “tummy” that you never had? Do you eat less because you get full so fast? Are you short of breath from small exertions?

With spinal fractures, what was once a nice sturdy compartment for your internal organs gradually becomes smaller and smaller, compressing your stomach, lungs and digestive tract.

There are many steps you can take to reduce the risk of spinal fractures:

•If you are a woman over 65, get a bone density test. This will tell you how strong your bones are. If you are younger, take a quick online test to determine your risk for having a fracture at Print your results and talk to your doctor about bone health.

•Make sure that your diet includes foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D. Your daily calcium intake from your diet and supplements should total 1200-1500 mg. American Bone Health recommends 1000-2000 IUs of vitamin D per day.

•Work with a bone health professional on exercises that strengthen your back muscles and improve your posture. These exercises help you protect your spinal bones.

•If you have a back pain that you think may not be caused by muscle strain, talk with your doctor. It is best to identify spinal fractures and treat them early.

Kathleen Cody is the executive director of American Bone Health. For more information, call and speak with one of the trained volunteers on the Bone Health Hotline at 617-245-3930  or visit our website at  Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at

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