Osteoporosis: Before and After a Broken Bone

You may have done your best to prevent a broken bone caused by osteoporosis. Or maybe you didn't even know your bones were at risk. Either way, your fracture can heal, and you can work closely with your doctor to avoid it ever happening again.

Fractures of the spine, hip, or wrist are the most common types in people with osteoporosis.

Fragility Fractures

Falls and bumps that wouldn't hurt a person with healthy bones can damage them when you have osteoporosis. Doctors call these injuries low trauma or fragility fractures. If you fall from standing height and break a bone, for example, you'll need treatment for this type of injury.

Some fractures can heal on their own, depending on which bone is broken and how severe the break.

When you need further treatment your doctor may refer you on to specialists such as:  

  • An orthopedic doctor, who can help cast and repair your broken bone
  • A physiatrist, who treats nerve, muscle, and bone problems that affect how you move
  • A physical therapist or occupational therapist, who show you exercises and other ways to recover and resume your regular activities

Fractures can hurt for a while, especially if you've broken a hip or a vertebra in your spine, called a compression fracture. You may need medicine for the pain. Ask your doctor to review everything you take, too, even if you didn't need a prescription for it or if it's "natural." That way you doctor can check on any possible side effects, like dizziness that could put you at risk for a fall.

Healing Your Spine

In some cases, you'll only need rest, pain medicine, exercises, and perhaps a back brace or treatment for muscle spasms while you're healing. A brace keeps your spine stable while the broken bone heals.

If your pain persists and is severe, your doctor may see if you're a candidate for:

  • Vertebroplasty. The doctor injects bone cement into the spine to keep it stable. This lessens pain, and it can also help prevent further fractures of the vertebrae and a curved spine.
  • Kyphoplasty. A doctor inserts a balloon device into the fractured vertebra. This helps restore the height and shape of the vertebra. Once removed, the device leaves a small cavity that is then filled with special bone cement.

If your doctor recommends either procedure, talk with them about the risks, benefits, and recovery time.

Hip Treatments

Treating a hip fracture depends on where your hip is broken, how severe the break is, and your overall health. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgical repair with screws, nails, or plates
  • A partial or total hip replacement
  • Exercises to help you move better and build strength

Wrist and Arm Care

The best treatment depends on the location of the break. With the right protection, some fractures may heal on their own. Then you may simply need:

  • A cast or splint
  • Exercises for your hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, or shoulder

When you need surgery, a doctor may implant a plate, screws, wires, rods, pins, or an external fixator. These devices hold the bone in place while it heals. If the bone is in more than two pieces, a bone graft can stimulate faster bone healing.

Preventing Broken Bones

When you have osteoporosis, working to prevent another fracture is a key part of your plan. That plan is likely to include diet, exercise, supplements (including calcium and vitamin D), and osteoporosis medication to strengthen your bones.

Be sure to discuss with your doctor how new drugs will work with your current medicines, when to take bone drugs, and potential side effects. Also talk to your doctor about:

  • Daily supplements of vitamin D. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 400-800 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 mg of calcium daily for adults younger than 50.Those 50 and older should get 800-1,000 IU vitamin D and 1,200 mg calcium daily.
  • Cutting back on sodas, alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco
  • Eating a balanced, healthy diet
  • Weight-bearing exercises like walking, dancing, or tennis.
  • Resistance exercises like working out with hand weights or elastic bands
  • Changing the way you do certain activities
  • Balance training to help prevent falls