The spine is made up of a column of 33 individual bones, called vertebrae, which are stacked atop one another from the base of the skull to the pelvis, and provide the entire body with structure and support. Each vertebra is composed of the vertebral body at the front and bony segments that form the rear of the vertebral arch and serve as a base for the vertebra (pictured to the left). Bone density is the amount of bone present in the skeleton – the higher the density, the stronger the bones.
Osteoporosis is a loss in bone density that results in fragile, porous bones that can fracture easily. Bone density begins to decrease in men and women after the age of 35. Typical bone density loss is about 0.3 to 0.5% per year. Osteoporosis is most common among elderly women because of accelerated bone loss after menopause. This density loss weakens the spine so that normal strain or minor trauma can cause fractures. Medications, a healthy diet, and weight-bearing exercise can help prevent bone loss or strengthen already weak bones.
Osteoporosis naturally affects men and women of all races, but Caucasian and Asian women past menopause are at the highest risk. About half of all women over the age of 50 will have a fracture of the hip, wrist, or vertebra (bones of the spine) during their lifetime. Spine fractures are the most common.
Osteoporosis alone is not painful, but the loss of bone density leads to weakened bones which break more easily. Common indicators of osteoporosis are spine, hip, rib and wrist fractures.