Breaking a bone is never pleasant, but breaking a bone in your spine can be especially debilitating. Called vertebral compression fractures (VCFs), these can occur in any part of the spine. VCFs can cause back pain, spinal deformity, impaired physical function, decreased lung capacity and function, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. Somewhat surprisingly, many people who suffer a VCF don’t realize what has happened. Depending on the location and severity of the fracture, as well as the person’s overall health, symptoms and the intensity of the pain widely vary.
Though VCFs can be caused by acute injuries, they are more commonly associated with osteoporosis. This chronic disease causes the bones to become weak and brittle, reducing bone mass and increasing the likelihood of fractures, including VCFs. It is estimated that as a 2012, there are roughly 44 million Canadians living with osteoporosis. Though this disease isn’t reversible, there are lifestyle changes that you can make to help promote your bone health.
Get Plenty of Calcium and Vitamin D: Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet rich in calcium and vitamin D helps strengthen bones. While we always hear about calcium being important for bones, having the vitamin D in there is key: Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium.
Good sources of calcium include dairy products, green leafy vegetables, beans and legumes, and nuts. If you are lactose intolerant or vegan, look for tofu and soy milk that is calcium fortified. Vitamin D comes from sunlight — 10 to 15 minutes of exposure three times a week will work. You can also find it in egg yolks, saltwater fish, shrimp, and vitamin-fortified orange juice.
Eat a banana: Potassium has also been shown to help improve bone density. Though potassium doesn’t aid bones directly, it’s an important helper. Researchers believe that potassium neutralizes acids that remove calcium from the body, letting you retain more of the calcium you take in. You can get potassium by eating bananas, as well as sweet potatoes, regular potatoes (skin on!), and yogurt.
Exercise: It’s not just about muscles — regular exercise also helps to strengthen your bones. Strength-building and weight-bearing exercises are considered the most helpful. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be pumping iron; even walking can help. If you are experiencing chronic pain or are suffering from osteoporosis, it’s important to consult a physician before beginning an exercise regimen.
Moderate caffeine consumption: Studies have shown that too much caffeine, especially when coupled with a calcium deficit, accelerates bone loss. Caffeine can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium and may also mess with vitamin D. While it’s okay to have caffeine in moderation (no more than the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee per day), it’s important to temper any negative effects on bone health by ensuring you get enough vitamins and minerals.
Don’t smoke: There are already a zillion reasons not to smoke, but your bone health is another one. Smoking interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium and decreases bone mass, so butt out!
It’s never too late (or too early) to take steps to support your bone health. If you have suffered a VCF, it may be able to be treated with medications and physical therapy. For VCFs that don’t respond to conservative treatments, there are also minimally invasive surgery options. Call the Spine Institute Northwest at 888-712-0318 today to learn more about vertebral body augmentation.