What is the link between osteoporosis and stress fractures in the spine?

When 30% to 35% of the original bone density of the spine is lost, the vertebrae become especially vulnerable to stress fractures. A stress fracture is a partial or total collapse of one of the bones in the spine. These types of fractures can cause a sudden pain in the back that generally goes away within 1 or 2 months and can be relieved by aspirin and application of a heating pad. Vertebrae fractures can occur even when there's no accident, injury, heavy lifting, or other obvious cause of stress on the bone ("low-trauma fractures"). So, a sudden and painful vertebral deformity or stress fracture that occurs after little or no stress on the spine is a strong indicator that you may have postmenopausal osteoporosis.

It's important to remember, however, that more often than not, you won't be aware of stress fractures. Even if unnoticed, multiple fractures of the vertebrae can reduce your height and lead to disability and deformity. Multiple and severe vertebrae fractures are most common among elderly women who have osteoporosis. However, even a woman younger than age 70 could have them if osteoporosis is not diagnosed accurately and treated effectively. One sign of multiple fractures of the vertebrae near the top of the spinal column is the so-called dowager's hump, in which the body bends forward at the shoulder blades. Also, if you have several stress fractures in the lower spine, the bone loss in the spinal column decreases the size of the abdominal cavity, pushes the abdominal contents forward, and creates a potbelly, even if you're thin.

Take the RealAge Test!

Continue Learning about Osteoporosis

Bone-Strengthening Foods to Fight Osteoporosis
Bone-Strengthening Foods to Fight Osteoporosis
Kids are often told to drink their milk for stronger bones, but what about postmenopausal women? Osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become...
Read More
What is the toll of osteoporosis in the United States?
Michael T. Murray, NDMichael T. Murray, ND
Osteoporosis means "porous bone." It involves both the mineral (inorganic) components of bone and th...
More Answers
5 Common Osteoporosis Myths, Debunked
5 Common Osteoporosis Myths, Debunked5 Common Osteoporosis Myths, Debunked5 Common Osteoporosis Myths, Debunked5 Common Osteoporosis Myths, Debunked
Get the facts and learn how to protect your bone health.
Start Slideshow
Explain Osteoporosis
Explain Osteoporosis

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.