Why Women Are More at Risk for Spinal Fractures Than Men

Sep 01, 2023

Why Women Are More at Risk for Spinal Fractures Than Men

Spinal fractures can result in severe pain, height loss, mobility problems, and an overall drop in quality of life. Some fractures are related to traumatic injury. However, most spinal fractures are related to decreased bone density.

Our team at Coastal Spine in New Jersey delivers quality multispecialty care to individuals experiencing back, neck, and joint pain related to painful conditions like spinal fractures.

We’re also happy to provide information that helps you make wise decisions about your spine and joint health. Read more about spinal fractures and why they’re more common in women than men.

Understanding spinal fractures

Spinal fractures or compression fractures occur in the vertically stacked bones of your spine (vertebrae) and can range from a series of cracks to a collapse of the vertebral body (burst fracture).

Depending on the location and type of break, spinal fracture symptoms may include:

  • Back pain that evolves slowly and worsens with standing
  • Decreased height, with loss of up to 6 inches
  • Severe, disabling pain at the time of the fracture
  • Muscle weakness and numbness in extremities, indicating nearby nerve involvement
  • Limited movement in the spine, making it difficult to bend or twist
  • Changes in posture or a stooped position (kyphosis)

Physicians also categorize spinal fractures as stable, those that don’t pull the vertebrae out of alignment, or unstable. An unstable spinal fracture often requires surgery to reduce the risk of spinal cord damage.

So, why are women at higher risk of spinal fractures?

Anyone can experience a spinal fracture. Common causes are injuries from falls, car accidents, or other trauma. 

For instance, burst fractures are often related to the compression force that occurs when you fall from a ladder or other height and land on your feet. That can cause vertebrae to break into many pieces.

Americans experience about 150,000 trauma-induced spinal fractures annually. However, osteoporosis triggers more than 1.5 million spinal fractures every year. Osteoporosis causes bones to lose density, making them weak and vulnerable to fracture.

Most osteoporosis-related fractures occur in the spine, hips, and wrists. Women are much more likely than men to develop osteoporosis due to declining estrogen levels during menopause.

Thus, because women are at higher risk of osteoporosis, they also have an increased risk of spinal compression fractures.

Many women also have smaller physical frames than men. A smaller frame can mean less bone mass to begin with, making bones more vulnerable to fractures.

Muscle mass also plays a protective role in shielding bones from fractures. Men generally have higher muscle mass than women, providing more protection against injuries that can lead to spinal fractures.

Finally, some medical conditions, like thyroid disorders, are more common in women. Both hyperthyroidism and prolonged use of thyroid medications can lead to bone loss.

Preventing spinal fractures

Women and men can help reduce their risks of spinal fractures by adopting bone-friendly lifestyle habits such as:

  • Exercising regularly, including cardiovascular, strengthening, and flexibility workouts
  • Following a nutritious diet that includes adequate calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin C
  • Wearing appropriate protective equipment for sports, hobbies, or work activities
  • Minimizing fall risks at home and work by securing rugs, removing floor clutter, etc.
  • Using a sturdy ladder or step stool rather than chairs, tables, etc. to reach items

Our team at Coastal Spine also recommends bone density studies for individuals over 50 or those with a family history of osteoporosis. Detecting declining bone density levels early offers the opportunity to improve bone health and potentially decrease your risks of spinal fractures.

For more information about how to protect your bone health or recover from a spinal fracture, schedule a visit at Coastal Spine today. Call one of our six New Jersey offices or request an appointment online.