Osteoporosis and Your Spine

Your spine is made up of small bones called vertebrae. The picture of the spine shows the different regions of the spine, from the bottom (sacrum) to the top (cervical). People with osteoporosis most often break bones in the upper (thoracic) spine. When these bones break, they can cause pain, height loss and stooped or hunched posture, called kyphosis.

Kyphosis and Bone Breaks in the Spine

The bones in the spine are called vertebrae. When they break, they are called vertebral fractures or compression fractures. Breaking one or more bones in the spine can cause sharp back pain that does not go away, or there can be no pain at all. After having several of these breaks, people may start to have a curved spine and lose height. When there is no pain, many people do not know they have broken a bone in the spine. After becoming shorter by an inch or more in one year's time, some people realize there is a problem with the spine. Because of height loss and changes in the spine, clothes may start to fit poorly.

The curve in the spine or the backbone that causes it to curve forward and look stopped or hunched is called kyphosis. As more bones break in the spine, the spine becomes more curved. When it is severe, kyphosis is sometimes called a dowager's hump. Other conditions, besides broken bones in the spine, can also cause kyphosis.

For some people, kyphosis causes constant pain. This pain happens when the spine becomes more curved and the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the back are strained and stretched. Sometimes nerves are also pinched.

Severe kyphosis can reduce the space for internal organs. It may also cause the stomach or abdomen to push forward and appear to stick out. As a result, it is harder for some people to breathe or eat, and they may not get enough food and nutrition for their health.

Fortunately, people can take steps to protect the spine and prevent kyphosis.

Protecting Your Spine

It is important to protect the spine by moving properly during exercise and daily activities. Activities that place stress on the spine can increase the likelihood of breaking a bone. For example, people with bone loss in the spine should not:

  • bend forward from the waist
  • twist and bend at the torso (trunk) to an extreme
  • carry packages that are too heavy
  • bend forward when coughing and sneezing
  • reach for objects on a high shelf
  • do toe-touches, sit-ups or abdominal crunches

For some people with a lot of bone loss, simply hugging a friend or picking up a grandchild can cause a broken bone in the spine. So can sneezing and coughing. To help protect the spine during a sneeze or cough, a person can gently press one or both hands against the chest. This helps prevent bending forward which can place stress on the spine.

If you have osteoporosis and experience back pain, you should see a doctor or other healthcare provider trained to treat osteoporosis. Most healthcare providers will want to check the spine for broken bones. You should also have your height measured once a year and have it written in your patient chart. It is best to do this at the same healthcare provider’s office each year. If height loss is equal to or greater than a half inch in one year, it may be a cause for concern.


Strengthening the muscles that hold the spine straight and upright is important as are exercises to keep your spine limber and flexible.  These muscles run up and down the back and sides of your spine. They are called your erector spinae muscles.

If you have osteoporosis, you need to remember an important rule when exercising or going about your daily activities: Do not flex or bend your spine forward. Backward bending or leaning back however reduces stress on the front of the spine.

View spine-strengthening exercises that help you hold your spine straight and upright.

View posture exercises that help keep your spine limber and flexible.





Exercise for Strong Bones

There are two types of exercises that are important for building and maintaining bone density: weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises. Learn about each type of exercise and how you can incorporate both into your exercise routine.

Are You at Risk?

There are a variety of factors that put you at risk for developing osteoporosis. Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for osteoporosis and work together to develop a plan to protect your bones.

Recovering from Falls

Even with your best efforts to protect your bones, it’s still possible to break a bone. People most often break bones in the spine, hip or wrist. Regardless of the bone you break, regaining strength and returning to daily activities takes time.