Signs, symptoms and effects of osteoporosis

Having osteoporosis means you're more likely to break a bone than the average adult.

As bones lose strength, they can break after a minor bump or fall. These are also known as fragility fractures. A broken bone and a fracture are the same thing.

When we speak about the symptoms of osteoporosis, we are referring to the broken bones it causes, and the impact the broken bones may have on your body.

Broken bones

An easily broken bone is often the first sign that your bones have lost strength. 

One of the most-common broken bones caused by osteoporosis is the wrist - often the result of putting an arm out to break a stumble or fall.

If you're older and less steady on your feet, a broken hip after an awkward fall is a sign that bones have lost strength.

Strong bones should be able to withstand a bump, or the impact of a fall from standing height. So if you've broken a bone easily, speak to your doctor. This is especially important if you have other risk factors for osteoporosis.

Your doctor may refer you for tests to find out more about your bone strength and if you're at risk of breaking another. If you are at risk, there are medications you can be prescribed to help strengthen your bones.

Spinal fractures

Another bone commonly broken when bones lose strength is the bones in your spine. This is known as a spinal fracture.

A spinal fracture is when the bones in your spine squash down on themselves, rather than breaking apart.

You may not always be aware a spinal fracture has occurred. Sometimes, spinal fractures don't cause the pain you'd expect from a broken bone. And, other times, pain can be mistaken for a different condition, such as arthritis.

Symptoms of spinal fractures

One or more of the following can be a sign of spinal fractures:

  • Unexplained back pain and muscle spasms
  • Height loss
  • A curved spine or change in posture

The symptoms of spinal fractures become more noticeable the more broken bones you experience.

If you think you have some of the symptoms listed above, speak to your doctor. They can investigate to confirm whether your symptoms are caused by spinal fractures or another condition.

If you're found to have spinal fractures, your doctor may decide to prescribe an osteoporosis medication without further tests, to reduce your risk of further broken bones.

In some cases, you may also be referred for tests to find out more about your bone strength.

Risk factors

Although osteoporosis doesn't have any early warning signs, finding out more about your risk factors for osteoporosis can help you identify if you could be at risk, before you break a bone. You may identify something you can change to protect your bones.

If you have multiple risk factors that you can't change, talk to your doctor. If they think you could be at risk, they may refer you for tests to find out more about your bone strength and if you're at risk of breaking a bone.

If you are at risk, you may be prescribed a medication to help strengthen your bones.

Long-term effects

Osteoporosis doesn't affect the healing process of bone. So if you do break a bone, rest assured it can heal as normal. This takes between six and 12 weeks.

During the healing process, spinal bones don't return to their normal shape. They heal in their new compressed shape instead. This leads to the long-term effects commonly associated with osteoporosis, which include:

  • height loss
  • curvature of the spine or a change in posture
  • ongoing back pain and muscle spasms

The combined effects of these can sometimes mean you're unable to continue going about daily tasks in the same way you did before.

Osteoporosis doesn't go on to affect everyone in this way.

If you do experience multiple spinal fractures, be reassured that there are adaptations you can make to help you continue doing the things that are important to you and your loved ones.

Common questions

  • If I have a spinal fracture, does it mean I could be paralysed?

  • I have heard you can die from osteoporosis. Is this true?