Young People Get Osteoporosis Too 

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Osteoporosis itself does not cause pain and there are usually no signs or symptoms. However when fractures occur, or when your posture changes (bent spine) due to osteoporosis, pain can result. Pain can range from mild to severe and can be short term, easing as the fracture heals. Severe ongoing (chronic) pain in osteoporosis is the result of permanent changes in your posture and spine, that can affect the rest of your body and how you walk. In cases of severe osteoporosis with multiple spine fractures, pain control may also need to become part of daily life.  An accurate diagnosis of your condition is vital. Talk with your doctor about your specific areas of pain. Pain and Pain relief are very individual problems.

Pain in osteoporosis may be due to:

  • breaking a bone (acute pain)

  • spinal crush fractures resulting in loss of height and change in posture in the spine (chronic pain)

  • damage caused to joints or limb function (as a complication of a fracture or abnormal posture)

  • other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis

Coping Strategies

Physical Methods of Pain Management

Heat and Ice - Heat, in the form of warm showers or hot packs, can relieve chronic pain or stiff muscles. Cold packs or ice packs provide pain relief by numbing the pain-sensing nerves in the affected area. Cold also helps reduce swelling and inflammation. Depending on which feels better, apply heat or cold for 15 to 20 minutes at a time to the area where you feel the pain. To protect your skin, place a towel between your skin and the source for cold or heat.

  • Warm towels or hot packs in the microwave for a quick source of heat
  • Frozen juice cans or bags of frozen vegetables make instant cold packs
  • Freezing a plastic, resealable bag filled with water makes a good ice bag

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) - A TENS machine is a small machine that sends electrical impulses to certain parts of the body to block pain signals. Two electrodes are placed on the body where the person is experiencing the pain. The electrical current that is produced is very mild, but it can prevent pain messages from being transmitted to the brain. Pain relief can last for several hours. Some people may use a small, portable TENS unit that hooks on a belt for more continuous relief. TENS machines should be used under the supervision of a physician or physical therapist. They can be purchased or rented from hospital supply or surgical supply houses; however, a prescription is necessary for insurance reimbursement.

Braces and Supports - Spinal supports or braces reduce pain and inflammation by restricting movement. Following a vertebral fracture, a back brace or support will relieve pain and allow the person to resume normal activities while the fracture heals. However, continuous use of a back support can weaken back muscles. For this reason, exercises to strengthen the muscles in the back should be started as soon as possible.

Exercise or Physical Therapy - Prolonged inactivity increases weakness and causes loss of muscle mass and strength. Physical therapy and a regular exercise program can help a person regain strength, energy, and a more positive outlook on life. Because exercise raises the body's level of endorphins (natural pain killers produced by the brain), pain will diminish. Exercise also relieves tension, increases flexibility, strengthens muscles and reduces fatigue. A physical therapist can help the person reorganize their home or work environment so that injuries can be avoided. Physical therapists also teach proper positioning posture, and exercises to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles without injuring a weakened spine. Pool therapy is one of the best exercise techniques to gently improve back muscle strength and reduce pain.

Acupuncture and Acupressure - Acupuncture is the use of special needles which are inserted into the body at certain points. These needles stimulate nerve endings and cause and cause the brain to release endorphins. It may take several acupuncture sessions before the pain is relieved. These techniques have been used in China especially to treat many types of pain and as an anesthetic. Acupressure is direct pressure over trigger areas of the pain. This technique can be self-administered after training with an instructor.

Massage Therapy - Massage therapy can be a light, slow, circular motion with the fingertips or a deep and kneading motion that moves from the center of the body outward towards the fingers or toes. Massage relieves pain, relaxes stiff muscles, and smooths out muscle knots by increasing the blood supply to the affected area and warming it. The person doing the massage uses oil or powder so that her/his hands slide smoothly over the skin. Massage can also include gentle pressure over the affected areas or hard pressure over trigger points in muscle knots. However, deep muscle massage should not be done near the spine of a person who has spinal osteoporosis. Light, circular massage with fingers or the palm of the hand is best in this case.

Psychological Methods of Pain Management
Relaxation Training
- Relaxation involves concentration and slow, deep breathing to release tension from muscles and relieve pain. Learning to relax takes a great deal of practice, but relaxation training can focus attention away from pain and release tension from all muscles. Relaxation tapes are available to help achieve the desired effects.

Biofeedback - Biofeedback is taught by a professional who uses special machines to help a person learn to control bodily functions such as heart rate and muscle tension. As the person learns to release muscle tension, the machine immediately indicates success. Biofeedback can be used to reinforce relaxation training. Once the technique is mastered, it can be practiced without the use of the machine.

Visual Imagery or Distraction - Imagery involves concentrating on mental pictures of pleasant scenes or events or mentally repeating positive saying to reduce pain. Tapes are also available to help visual imagery. Distraction techniques focus the person's attention away from negative painful images to positive mental thoughts. This may include watching television or a favorite movie, reading a book or listening to a book on tape, listening to music, or talking to a friend.

Hypnosis - Hypnosis can be used in two ways to reduce a person's perception of pain. Some people are hypnotized by a therapist and given a post-hypnotic suggestion that reduces the pain they feel; others are taught self-hypnosis and can hypnotize themselves when pain interrupts their ability to function. Self-hypnosis is a form of relaxation training.

Individual, Group, or Family Therapy - This form of therapy may be useful to those whose pain has not responded to physical agents. Individuals often experience emotional stress as well as depression from constantly dealing with pain. Therapy can help one to cope with these feelings, making it easier to deal with the pain.

Medications are the most popular way of dealing with pain. Medications commonly used are aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen, and though these are probably the safest pain relievers available, they are associated with gastric irritation and bleeding.

Narcotic drugs may be prescribed for short term acute pain. These drugs should not be used for prolonged periods because they are addictive and can affect cognitive ability. They also have other side effects such as constipation.

Many of those with persistent pain that has not responded to other forms of pain relief are treated with antidepressant medication. It has been suggested that these drugs act in a different way when used for treatment of unyielding pain.

It is thought that the body's internal pain suppression system is, to a considerable extent, dependent upon the concentrations of various chemicals in the brain which are increased by the use of antidepressant.


Young People Get Osteoporosis Too Organization
Copyright 2001  All rights reserved.
Revised: 03/11/08.