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Cheat Sheet

Osteoporosis For Dummies

From Osteoporosis For Dummies by Carolyn Riester O'Connor, MD, Sharon Perkins, RN

When you have osteoporosis (a skeletal disorder where your bones become porous and weak), you have increased chances of sustaining bone fractures. But which bones are most commonly broken, and how long do they take to mend? You can lessen your chances of breaking bones by knowing how to prevent falls.

4 Most Common Fractures Due to Osteoporosis

So are you wondering which types of fractures are the most common with osteoporosis? If you experience any of these fractures, ask your doctor to check for osteoporosis. If you already have osteoporosis, be vigilant about preventing bone fractures.

Here's a quick look at common fractures related to from osteoporosis:

  • Hip fractures: Although hip fractures may seem to get the most publicity with osteoporosis, they aren't the most common osteoporotic fracture. Of the 1.5 million osteoporotic fractures each year in the United States, about 300,000 are hip fractures.

  • Vertebral compression fractures: Nearly half, or 700,000, of the annual osteoporotic fractures in the U.S. are of this type. A vertebral compression fracture is an injury to the spine in which one or more vertebrae collapse.

    If the collapse is only in the front part of the spines, it's a compression (or wedge) fracture. If the vertebral body is crushed in all directions, it's called a burst fracture.

  • Wrist fractures: Often called Colles' fractures, wrist fractures account for about 200,000 of the osteoporotic fractures in the U.S.

  • Other fractures: The remainder includes mostly fractures of the ribs, shoulder, and pelvis, although any bone can sustain an osteoporotic fracture.

Although vertebral compression fractures can occur with little or no trauma — a cough or sudden twist of your upper body can cause one — hip and wrist fractures are most often related to falls.

Osteoporosis: How Long Does Bone Take to Heal?

You may not have thought much about osteoporosis — until you've fractured a bone. Exactly how fast the bone heals depends somewhat on the type of bone that's broken.

Bone consists of complicated living tissue of which there are two types, cortical and trabecular. Most bones contain both types of tissue:

  • Cortical (compact) bone is about four to six times denser than trabecular bone. About 75 to 80 percent of your skeleton is made of cortical bone. Cortical bone composes most of the shafts of long bones, like the femur in your thigh and the humerus in your arm.

    Cortical bone heals in four to eight months.

  • Trabecular (spongy) bone is spongier than cortical bone and composes about 20 percent of the bones in your body. Trabecular bone appears at the ends of long bones and in the bones of the vertebrae (spine). Also, most short bones consist of trabecular tissue; your wrist and ankles contain short bones.

    Trabecular bone heals within three to six months — more quickly than cortical bone — in part because of its better blood supply.

If you have a problem with low amounts of vitamin D in your blood or some other problem with vitamin D metabolism, it'll take much longer for your fracture to heal.

8 Ways to Prevent Falls When You Have Osteoporosis

Fractures and broken bones are likely if you have osteoporosis and happen to fall. Avoid a trip to the doctor: Prevent falls by following these eight safety measures:

  • Alcohol: Keep your alcoholic beverage intake to a minimum to prevent losing your balance.

  • Bathrooms: Install and use grab bars and nonslip tub mats or nonslip tape in your tub or shower.

  • Floors: Reduce clutter and secure all loose wires, cords, and throw rugs. Make sure all your rugs and carpeting are anchored and have no wrinkles or bumps.

  • Kitchen: Always clean spills immediately, especially from the floor; and install non-skid mats near the sink, stove, and refrigerator.

  • Lighting: Make sure all your halls, stairways, and entrances are well lit. If you get up in the middle of the night, turn on your lights so you can easily see where you're going. Install a night light in your bathroom.

  • Medications: Ask your doctor if any of your medications might cause dizziness that could lead to a fall.

  • Shoes: Always wear sturdy, rubber-soled shoes to reduce slippage. Wear non-skid socks or slippers.

  • Stairs: At home, make sure all of the treads, rails, and rugs on the stirs are secure. Be sure to use the handrails.

Statistics show that if you've had one osteoporotic fracture, your chances for another one increase. After you know your bones are more prone to fracture, you need to be extra vigilant about taking care of yourself.

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