Osteoporosis: A Real Pain in the Back

Back pain is so common that most people in the United States will experience it at least once in their lives. Back pain is also often cited as one of the most prevalent reasons for missed time at work. And when it comes to visits to the doctor, it is second only to respiratory infections such as the common cold. If back pain is this prevalent, what are the major causes?

Some types of back pain are a result of accidents or injuries from activities such as sports or lifting heavy objects. Back pain can also be a result of certain medical conditions such as pregnancy or diseases affecting other organs such as the kidneys. However, one of the most frequent causes of back pain is osteoporosis. According to the National Institutes of Health more than 40 million people suffer from osteoporosis in the United States.

Osteoporosis literally means "porous bone" and is the result of a loss of bone density or mass. Normally, the inside of human bone resembles a honey comb, but as the condition progresses the spaces within the honeycomb become larger as bone tissue is lost. At the same time, the outside covering of the bone becomes thinner, weakening the bones even further.

There are several risk factors associated with osteoporosis. The most common is gender. Women are more likely to develop the condition than men because their bones are smaller and lighter to begin with and hormonal changes related to menopause also contribute to bone loss. Another risk factor is age. Bones normally thin with age so the risk of any type of bone loss increases with age. Other factors are ethnicity and family history. Asian and Caucasian women have the highest risk and there is evidence that those with a family member with the condition are also at greater risk. But there are some risk factors which can be controlled. Smoking results in reduced calcium absorption which contributes to bone loss. A healthy diet high in calcium and Vitamin D can help keep bones strong, and regular exercise helps to strengthen both muscles and bones.

Currently there is no cure for osteoporosis; however, there are treatment options. The primary goal of treatment is to prevent fractures. To minimize the risk of fractures, certain medications may be prescribed. A class of drugs known as bisphosphonates has been shown to slow bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures. In addition, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and engaging in physical activity have been shown to reduce back pain associated with this condition. In the meantime, research continues into both prevention and developing new treatment strategies.

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