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Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis and bone fractures

With osteoporosis, bone loss can happen without any symptoms — so a fracture can be the first sign.

Fractures caused by osteoporosis are called fragility fractures — which means they happen for minor reasons: A slip or stumble while walking; minor bump; or strain (like when sneezing, coughing, bending, lifting or reaching) can cause one. While these fractures can occur in any bone, the most common are in the hip, spine, wrist and shoulder.

If you’ve suffered a fragility fracture, you’re not alone:

  • More than 30% of women and 20% of men will have fracture due to osteoporosis at some point during their life
  • Osteoporosis causes more than 80% of all fractures in people who are over the age of 50
  • 70-90% of hip fractures are caused by osteoporosis

Caring for your fracture

A fracture may mean you need a cast, brace or splint, or surgery to help it heal. Whatever the case, it’s important to follow the instructions you were given about what to do when you get home, like rest and movements to avoid. And you’ll need to be patient because it may take a minimum of 6-8 weeks to heal, or even longer since osteoporotic bones don’t heal as quickly as normal bones.

Here are some general self-care tips to keep in mind:

Wrist and shoulder fractures — are usually caused when your hand is outstretched in order to try and break a fall. You’ll likely have to wear a cast, splint or sling to keep the bone still while it heals. Once healed, you’ll be given a series of exercises to do so that you can regain strength and range of motion.

Hip fractures — are usually the result of a fall. Hospitalization is required and often surgery is needed.

You will be supported in your recovery and will likely be instructed to:

  • Stand and use a walker as soon as possible.
  • Re-learn how to do daily tasks — like bathe and get dressed
  • Use assistive devices — like a raised toilet seat, shower chair and reacher to grab things
  • Exercise to strengthen muscles that support your hip joint
  • Never bend your hips more than 90 degrees — like when sitting or crossing your legs

Spine fractures — are painless 2/3 of the time and found during an x-ray for another reason or because you’re not as tall as usual. But they can also be very painful.

Treatment will depend on the severity and seriousness of your fracture.

Here are some things that may help:

  • Keep your spine in neutral position. To protect your spine, train your muscles to stand tall so that your ears are in line with your shoulders. This helps reduce strain — and lower your risk re-fracturing your spine.
  • Bend from your hips. Bend your knees slightly, keep your spine straight and bend from your hips (not your waist).
  • Use a back brace. When wrapped around your abdomen, it can help support your spine until your muscles are strong enough on their own.
  • Stretch out your spine and legs when in bed. You may be on bed rest for a few days or until your pain is better. When in bed, keep your spine and legs long to help reduce strain.
  • Opt for a straight-back chair with a firm seat. This will help you sit tall. And armrests will help you move.

Pain and your bone fracture

You may feel pain immediately after a fracture but it should start to subside as your bone heals. In some cases, though, the pain can become chronic.

Heat and ice, physical activity, braces and alternative pain management techniques (like acupuncture and massage therapy) may be helpful. It’s important that you try different things because not everybody experiences pain in the same way.

To help keep your bones strong, try these bone-smart lifestyle choices.

For more information and support, search “Osteoporosis” in Find Support for organizations in your area.

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