Literally speaking, osteoporosis means ‘porous bones’. Individuals with osteoporosis suffer brittle bones which can be broken more readily than someone who is not suffering with osteoporosis. However, this does not mean you are going to suffer a fracture, there will be plenty of people walking around suffering with osteoporosis of the spine who will never suffer any kind of fracture, with the condition itself having varying degrees of severity. It is often only when an individual suffers a fracture that they realise they are osteoporotic, consequently those that do not suffer a fracture pass through life never knowing.
As we go through life, our body continuously replaces/remodels our bones to keep them strong. However as we get older, this remodelling cannot always keep pace with the natural thinning of the bones which also naturally takes place. Consequently, slowly but surely the bone density is not as healthy as we would like it to be and osteoporosis can result.
With regards to Low Back Pain & Sciatica and the effect osteoporosis may have, it is primarily due to the vertebra of the spine losing height which causes the pain. As the bone density of the vertebra decreases in those individuals with osteoporosis, the vertebra begin to lose height as a consequence of the weight being placed through them by our own body. When quite severe, relatively small fractures can take place and as a result the vertebra can become quite ‘squashed’. This is referred to as a compression fracture.
The consequences of this are two fold:
1) Posture: Due to the way in which the vertebra become compressed, it causes those suffering with osteoporosis to develop a ‘flexed’ or ‘stooped’ posture. In addition to this, once again as a result of the vertebra becoming compressed, significant height can be lost… it is as if you are shrinking! Even though your posture may be quite severely affected, you may not necessarily be suffering any pain at this stage. However, this is not a reason to be complacent and if you recognise any of these potential changes in posture, it is important you make an appointment to see you Doctor.
2) Pain: If you are suffering with compression fractures of the vertebra, there is a fair chance this is going to cause you pain at sometime, especially when the fracture is relatively new and your body has not been able to heal itself yet (it will though). If these fractures and their consequences begin to irritate the nerve roots which form the sciatic nerve in any way, sciatica i.e. pain down the legs, will result.
Osteoporosis is something which can be readily treated and the sooner you begin treating it the better. Pain associated with osteoporosis is not something you necessarily have to live with.