Laser Spine Institute’s Ask the Doctor Featuring Dr. John Spallino, MD

Q:  Does a family history of osteoporosis increase my chances of developing spinal complications?

A: It may. Let’s start off by defining the term “osteoporosis“. “Osteoporosis” literally means “porous bones.” This condition occurs when bones begin to lose some of their essential elements, the most important of which is calcium. Over time, bone mass decreases. As a result, bones lose their strength, become fragile, and break easily. In extreme cases, even a sneeze or a sudden movement may be enough to break a bone.

Osteoporosis is a serious health problem, affecting approximately 28 million people in the United States and is responsible for about 1.5 million fractures (broken bones) each year. The most common locations where breaks occur are the hip, spine, and wrist. Hip and spine injuries are the most serious, often requiring hospitalization and major surgery. They may also lead to other serious consequences, including permanent disability and death.

Contributing Factors

While a decrease in bone mass is a normal part of aging, there are certain factors that increase a person’s risk for osteoporosis. These factors include:

• Gender- Women are more likely to have osteoporosis than men. Women commonly lose 30 to 50% of their bone mass over their lifetimes, while men lose about 20 to 35%.

• Race- Caucasian and Asian women are at somewhat higher risk for osteoporosis than are African American and Hispanic women.

• Body structure- Individuals with smaller, thinner bones are at higher risk for osteoporosis.

• Early menopause- Women who experience menopause earlier start losing bone mass earlier.

•  Lifestyle- Alcohol consumption and tobacco use are thought to increase risk for osteoporosis. Lack of exercise may have the same effect.

• Diet- Two important nutrients needed for bone formation are protein and calcium. A diet low in either of these nutrients may lead to osteoporosis.

Complications

In addition to fracture of vertebrae in the spine, spinal stenosis may also result from osteoporosis. Spinal stenosis is a medical condition in which the spinal canal narrows and compresses the spinal cord and nerves. This is usually due to the natural process of spinal degeneration that occurs with aging. However, it can also be caused by spinal disc herniation, osteoporosis or a tumor. Spinal stenosis can affect either the cervical or lumbar vertebrae.

One can observe that osteoporosis and spinal stenosis can go hand to hand. Therefore, treatment should be directed at both conditions. At Laser Spine Institute, while we do not treat osteoporosis, minimally invasive spine surgery is an excellent option for treating spinal stenosis.

Goals and Methods of Treatment for Osteoporosis

Since there is currently no cure for osteoporosis, the best recommendation is prevention. In the event that the condition is present, treatment should be pursued. Available treatment options for osteoporosis include:

• Drug therapy – several medications are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.

• Surgery – In the event that pain is not relieved through medical management, surgery may be performed. This type of surgery is called vertebroplasty and involves injecting bone cement (polymethylmethacrylate or PMMA) into the body of the fractured vertebrae.

The main goals of treatment are to slow the progression of the disease, minimize the risks of complications that may cause pain or reduction in function, maximize mobility and reduce the risk of falls and fractures. If these goals are achieved, osteoporosis patients are able to enjoy a relatively active lifestyle.

Dr. John Spallino is a Medical Information Specialist at Laser Spine Institute. In this capacity, he facilitates patient education by conducting nationwide informational seminars, in addition to interpreting and analyzing radiographic imaging. To learn more about Dr. Spallino, click here.

Laser Spine Institute’s Ask the doctor column is also featured in our monthly newsletter, The Spinal Column. To subscribe, click here.

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