Your bones are porous inside and resemble a sponge with countless tiny holes and spaces. Strong, healthy bones have small, tightly knit spaces, but a disease called osteoporosis changes that, widening the holes and weakening the bones.
But, does that process cause joint pain, too? That’s a question Dinash Yanamadula, MD, at Princeton Pain & Spine Institute hears a lot. And the answer is complicated. Here’s what we’d like our patients throughout Lawrenceville and Edgewater, New Jersey, to know about osteoporosis and its symptoms.
If you have osteoporosis, your bone density is decreasing and your bones are getting weaker. Not only does the inside get more porous, the outside of your bones begins to thin out and become more fragile, too.
Osteoporosis is most common in women, especially older and menopausal women. Age is a factor, because the human body begins to break down bone tissue faster than it can replace it around age 30. So the stronger your bones are at their peak density, the lower your chances are of developing osteoporosis.
Menopause is a factor in osteoporosis, because the hormonal changes associated with this transition in a woman’s life can cause her to lose bone density more quickly.
But other things can lead to osteoporosis as well, including smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, genetics, and having a small, slim body frame.
Unfortunately, the signs of osteoporosis aren’t always obvious. If they do show up, you might notice that your hair and nails have become brittle, your grip is weaker than normal, your gums are receding, or you seem to be shrinking in height.
For many people who suffer from osteoporosis, the first sign that they have the disease is a broken bone. And it doesn’t take much to fracture a bone when you have osteoporosis — a slight misstep, a bumpy car ride, or even a hard cough or sneeze can do it.
The best way to know for sure if you have osteoporosis is to have your bone density tested. A type of X-ray technology called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) measures the density of the bones where osteoporosis strikes most often: your hips, wrists, and spine. The test is quick and painless, and the results can help you take preventive steps to protect your bones.
We mentioned that the answer to this question is a little complicated, and that’s because osteoporosis doesn’t directly cause joint pain. However, it may indirectly cause joint pain. Here’s why.
As your bones weaken with osteoporosis, your spine is one of the prime targets. In fact, about 1.5 million osteoporosis sufferers experience a spinal fracture, which is more than twice the number of wrist and hip fractures associated with the disease.
When your vertebrae break, they collapse and therefore decrease the total length of your spine. You may notice that your spine loses its natural curve and you hunch forward. You may also notice that you’re no longer as tall as you once were.
These fractured vertebrae can be painful and cause inflammation in your spinal joints.
Arthritis, the most common joint-pain culprit, occurs when you have excess inflammation in your joints. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, but one in particular seems to increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the kind caused by an autoimmune disorder that triggers your body to attack its own tissue, causes painful, stiff, swollen joints. Studies show a link between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis:
Since women are at a higher risk for both diseases, it’s important to get screened, especially if you have a family history of either condition.
Neither osteoporosis nor rheumatoid arthritis are curable, but the joint pain they can cause is. Dr. Yanamadula specializes in relieving the discomfort of inflamed joints with joint injections, nerve blocks, and viscosupplementation.
Depending on the underlying cause of your joint pain and the severity of your symptoms, these treatments may bring you temporary relief that lasts long enough for you to participate in healing modalities, such as exercise and physical therapy.
If you have osteoporosis-related joint pain — or think you do — we can help. Dr. Yanamadula can give you a thorough evaluation and discuss your next steps. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Princeton Pain & Spine Institute today.