SCI Health Series: Bone Health

After a spinal cord injury, a lot of health concerns must be looked at, but the bones are often overlooked, and this is not good since a fracture can take months to heal, putting your life on hold.

One of the biggest things to remember is that you are at a higher risk of bone loss after a SCI. Doctors still aren’t exactly sure why this is, but it most likely has to do with spinal cord dysfunction. And with bone loss comes Osteopenia, or its more severe “sibling,” Osteoporosis. We all know that this perky condition can lead to a higher risk of fractures.

Doctors do know one thing however – over 80% of people with chronic spinal cord injuries have Osteopenia, and it has been proven to begin as early as eight weeks post injury. There are however interventions you can utilize to prevent this. One of the easiest is nutrition. Increasing Vitamin D and iron in your food (greens, liver, red meat) can help your body absorb more sunlight, which helps increase bone strength.

Weight-bearing exercises are another great way to prevent bone loss, but thus can be tricky with a SCI. If you’re able to use a standing frame, this is a super easy way to do weight bearing. Otherwise, a new method is a vibration machine. Standing exercises, if you’re able to stand with an assistant, is another great way to get weight bearing into your life. E-stim can help prevent bone loss as well.

When bone loss occurs, people with spinal cord injuries tend to get fractures in their hips and legs. Unfortunately, these fractures that take the longest to heal because they’re in some of the biggest bones in the body. You can also take calcium supplements to strengthen these bones, but no more than 1000 mg a day. Some people with spinal cord injuries are also at a higher risk of having too little calcium in their blood, which also known as Hypocalcemia. Doctors will prescribe Phosomax for this condition.

To monitor bone loss, it’s recommended that people with spinal cord injuries have a Dexa scan each year, which shows the bone density of all the bones in the body. Additionally, doctors will also prescribe Vitamin D to prevent both Osteopenia and Hypocalcemia.

One last condition that people spinal cord injuries must be aware of is Heterotopic Ossification. This is a where the body will suddenly create a bony mass in soft tissue in the body, typically in the joints. It’s not life threatening, but it can greatly decrease range of motion and be painful. Surgery can sometimes remove HO and they’ll also prescribe radiation to stop it in severe cases. In most cases however, people leave the mass alone.

Remember, above all else you can win the battle against bone loss after a post-injury. The secret is staying on top of your bone health through doctor visits, eating right and getting plenty of Vitamin D.

What bone health regimen do you follow?

Learn more

Osteoporosis and Spinal Cord Injury

Bone Loss and Muscle Atrophy in Spinal Cord Injury

Paralysis & bone health

Bone-Health Videos

Bone Health following SCI

Osteoporosis and Fractures in Persons with SCI: What, Why, and How to Manage

Causes of Osteoporosis and Bone Fractures After Spinal Cord Injury

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