Spinal complications are common effects of osteoporosis. These include spinal fractures and spinal stenosis. Medications, lifestyle changes, and exercises can help you manage osteoporosis and prevent spinal issues.

About 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will develop a bone fracture because of osteoporosis, reports the International Osteoporosis Foundation. The spine is one of the most common sites of osteoporotic fracture.

Research from Europe suggests women have about a 29% lifetime risk of an osteoporosis-related spinal fracture, and men have about a 14% risk.

Most people with osteoporosis don’t develop any noticeable symptoms until they fracture a bone. The risk of developing osteoporosis increases with age, particularly after menopause in women.

If your doctor thinks you’re at risk of a fracture, they might prescribe medications to help reduce your bone loss. Regular exercise can also help keep your skeleton strong as you age.

Read on to learn more about spinal osteoporosis, including complications and treatment options.

Language matters

We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms that have been historically used to gender people. But your gender identity may not align with how your body responds to this disease. Your doctor can better help you understand how your specific circumstances relate to symptoms and treatment of this condition.

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Women seem to develop osteoporosis at a younger age than men and at a faster rate. Postmenopausal people lose about 1.5% of their bone mass from their spine each year in the 5 years after menopause.

Loss of bone density from your vertebrae can weaken them until they collapse. When this happens, it’s called a compression fracture.

Compression fractures almost always occur in the front part of your vertebrae. They can lead to complications like a stooped posture and compression of your spinal cord.

Spinal fractures are the second most common type of fracture in females with osteoporosis, behind hip fractures. Men seem to develop spinal fractures at higher bone densities than women, especially in the lower spine.

Osteoporosis is often referred to as a silent disease because it usually doesn’t cause symptoms until it leads to a fracture.

Once your bones are severely weakened, you may develop symptoms such as:

  • loss of height from compression of your spine
  • back or neck pain
  • stooped posture

Possible complications of spinal osteoporosis include the following:

Spinal fractures

Spinal compression fractures occur when the front part of a vertebra cracks or collapses. Experts usually define them as a 15% to 20% loss in the height of the vertebra. They can occur during minor activities in people with advanced osteoporosis, such as coughing or getting out of a bathtub.

The majority of spinal fractures are linked to osteoporosis. They can cause:

  • moderate to severe pain that gets worse with movement and lasts 4 to 6 weeks
  • sudden back or neck pain
  • eventual height loss
  • limited spinal mobility
  • spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is when the space inside your vertebrae becomes too narrow and puts pressure on your spinal cord. It can cause symptoms such as:


Kyphosis is the medical term for a forward rounding of your upper back. Kyphosis may develop as a complication of compression fractures. It can cause symptoms such as:


Research suggests a connection between osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Healthcare professionals characterize osteoarthritis as the degeneration of a joint from wear and tear.

In a 2018 study, researchers found evidence that people with severe osteoarthritis impairment had significantly lower bone density in their lower spine and femur than people without osteoarthritis impairment.

You can usually treat osteoporosis with a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.

The most prescribed medications for osteoporosis are called bisphosphonates. These medications slow down the rate your body breaks down bone tissues. You can take them by mouth, or a healthcare professional can administer them intravenously (IV).

The bisphosphonate alendronate (Fosamax) may reduce rates of hip and spine fractures by 50%. Zoledronic acid (Reclast) taken through an IV may reduce the rates of spinal fractures by up to 70%.

Learn more about osteoporosis medications.

Home management

You may be able to slow bone loss at home in the following ways:

  • If you smoke cigarettes, quit.
  • Eat a balanced diet high in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Consider calcium and vitamin D supplements if you don’t get enough through your diet.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink.
  • Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, three to four times per week.

Research consistently shows that regular exercise can help slow the rate of bone loss in the lower spine and femur of older adults.

The most effective program for reducing spinal fractures is likely a program made up of a combination of exercises.

Experts typically recommend two types of exercises for people with osteoporosis:

Strength training exercises seem to increase bone density, specifically in the area you’re working.

Learn more about exercises for osteoporosis.

The outlook for people with osteoporosis is generally good if it’s detected when bone loss is in the early stages. You can often improve bone mineral density with early treatment of bisphosphonates.

The outlook is significantly worse after a spinal fracture. Women who fracture a vertebra have an increased risk of another fracture in 1 or 2 years.

Osteoporosis is a lower-than-normal bone density. It’s very common in aging adults.

Spinal fractures are one of the most common complications of osteoporosis. A spinal fracture can cause severe complications if it leads to compression of your spinal cord.

Regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and not smoking are some of the best ways to manage osteoarthritis at home. Your doctor may prescribe medications if they think you’re at a high risk of fracture.