by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Breaking a bone is scary, there’s no doubt. And when it is a major bone, like your pelvis, hip, or spine it can be debilitating. But the numbers surrounding the prevelance of wrist, hip, and spine fractures and osteoporosis just don’t match up with what we know.
Most fractures occur as the result of falling. Wrist fractures occur most often from women bracing themselves as they fall and have less to do with fragile bones than the conditions of the fall. As response time declines with age, women are less able to throw their arms up in time and end up falling on their hips.
Statisticians will tell us that more than one third of people over 65 will fall at least once. About half of them will have a fracture (15%). If you have established osteoporosis, the risk of life-impeding fracture is elevated because once an osteoporitic bone is broken it is very difficult to mend.
Hip fractures are particularly frightening because they have the most impact on a woman’s quality of life. After age 75, 30% of people with hip fractures don’t recover enough to fully engage in their usual lives. By 90, one third of all women may experience a hip fracture.
But these figures are misleading when it comes to osteoporosis because at least half of all hip fractures after age 80 can be attributed to a fall caused by other factors—not a bone spontaneously breaking. And in most cases where bone fragility was a factor there were other co-factors.
The statistic you need to heed is that over 85% of women turning 50 years old today with a life expectancy of 80 will not have a hip fracture, regardless of their bone density. Perhaps by then we’ll all feel comfortable wearing aerodynamic hip pads under our clothes—a simple device proven to prevent broken hip bones.
Losing height and getting a hump are two images of osteoporosis seared into our brain by the media—but the truth behind spine fractures is less daunting. Most vertebral fractures are due to compression and are symptom-free.
Spinal compression occurs when the cushioning tissue between each vertebrae deteriorates over time—it has nothing to do with osteoporosis unless you have been diagnosed with spinal osteoporosis. Losing height for the vast majority of women is just part of gravity’s pull.
Spinal deformity caused by hairline fractures in the vertebrae can cause curvature of the spine and back pain: the dreaded “dowager’s hump.” The chance of developing this condition is exceedingly rare in women under 80.