Osteoporosis is a disease which reduces the density and quality of bone. Density means the bone mass (bone mineral density) and quality means the bone fibres. With osteoporosis, bones lose their strength, become more porous and fragile and there is an increased risk of fracture. Osteoporosis occurs silently and progressively, very often without any symptoms or pain until the first fracture happens.
It is a general disease, so it may affect every bone in the body. Some bones, such as the wrist bones, the upper leg bones and the spine bones, however, are more prone to develop symptoms or to fracture due to their anatomical structure and mechanical exposure to more heavy loads.
The loss of mechanical strength may cause fractures in the spine to simply happen without any injury. It is estimated that up to half of women and one third of men, experience at least one osteoporotic spine bone (vertebral) fracture during their life.
Vertebral fractures due to osteoporosis can give rise to a sudden onset of pain. The patient feels a sudden sharp pain (often associated with a “crack” in the back). It is usually worse during activities and reduced at rest. An X-ray or magnetic resonance scan (MRI) can confirm if there is a fractured vertebra. Vertebral fractures can result in serious consequences, including loss of height, intense back pain and deformity (sometimes called Dowager's Hump). Often this gets better within 3-12 weeks as the fracture heals, and there are no ill effects. Sometimes the fracture is slow to heal and persistent pain and reduced physical activity occurs with secondary effects such as negative self-esteem.
Sometimes, particularly when there are many fractures, this may result in deformities and loss of balance of the spine.
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