Osteoporosis is a thinning of the bones that causes them to become porous and fragile. It affects women more than men, is associated with aging, and progresses more rapidly after menopause. The good news is that osteoporosis is largely preventable and treatable.
Osteoporosis is sometimes called the "silent disease," and most people don't know they have osteoporosis until it has progressed, often to the point of fracture, usually in the hip, wrist or spine. Even when undiagnosed osteoporosis results in a vertebral fracture, the pain is frequently dismissed as general back pain. This lack of awareness can lead to serious illness, deformity, even death.
Osteoporosis alone does not cause back pain. It can, however, weaken the spine to where it is no longer able to withstand normal stress or minor trauma, resulting in vertebral fracture. It is the ensuing fracture that causes pain.
Osteopenia is a condition where bone mineral density is lower than normal, but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. While often a precursor to osteoporosis, not everyone with osteopenia will develop osteoporosis. Since a diagnosis of osteopenia puts one at greater risk for osteoporosis, patients are encouraged to seek the advice of their physicians about implementing preventive measures.