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Salima Ladak-Kachra, Canada

A personal story of compression fractures

At the age of 25, I sustained four compression fractures in my spine when I slipped and fell on a ceramic floor. When I hit the floor, I felt unbearable pain course down my back. I almost urinated in my pants, the pain was so excruciating. I couldn't move my body and for a moment, I thought I was paralyzed. I couldn't stop crying. I knew something terrible had happened.

The next thing I knew, I was in the emergency department. No one could understand why I was in so much pain and why I couldn't get up. A x-ray showed that I had crushed my vertebrae. The emergency physician was shocked to see what appeared on the x-ray. He said the damage to my back looked as though someone had hammered it with a baseball bat.

Salima with daughter Ashyana-Jasmine

Most people who fall and land on their backs usually have little discomfort or minor soft tissue injury. However, I was an exception to that rule. I experienced excruciating pain, and was not able to walk, shower, eat or dress myself without assistance. I truly felt physically handicapped. I discovered that I had lost one inch in height and my waist increased from 18 to 22 inches. I had trouble performing daily tasks such as cooking, doing the laundry and cleaning. I felt as though as I was eighty years old – fragile and weak.

I kept asking myself: Why is this happening to me? I was so young and had my entire life ahead of me. I was newly married and was planning on having children in the near future. With the constant pain in my entire back, I began to suffer both physically and emotionally and went through a period of depression. This depression also put a strain on my marriage as I had trouble communicating and being intimate due to the unbearable pain. The pain medications made me feel sleepy and lethargic, but thank goodness they worked.

Prior to my fractures, I had seen a few physicians complaining of back pain, but was told that I was guilty of nothing more than improper body mechanics! The apparent risk factors I had for osteoporosis were ignored, probably due to my young age. After all, osteoporosis had always been associated with hunched-over elderly women. I have a very strong family history of osteoporosis on both sides of my family. I also have a petite body frame and I am of Asian descent. I had low calcium intake throughout my adolescent years, because I had difficulty tolerating dairy products and barely focused on being physically active.

In addition, my menstrual cycle was irregular virtually from its onset. At age 20, after suffering a severe weight loss (a pixie-like 87 pounds), nausea, and headaches, my new family physician ordered comprehensive blood and diagnostic tests. These revealed that I had hyperprolactinemia. This condition, along with the other aforementioned factors, were preventing me from attaining my peak bone mass, and as a result, my bones were thin.

It was only the very painful experience of four vertebral fractures that forced an investigation of my bone health. A bone density examination revealed severe osteopenia in both my spine and femur regions, requiring immediate measures to be taken. To this day, I still have back pain and my body neither feels nor looks the same as it once did. I still have trouble cleaning the house, vacuuming, making the bed or being in one position for a prolonged period of time. I am now committed to preventing anyone from enduring the same experience that I did.

It is vital for one to have optimal calcium intake, to practice regular weight-bearing exercise, restrain from excess caffeine or alcohol consumption, and to not smoke. These are only a few of the risk factors for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a multi-factorial disease that can happen to anyone regardless of gender or ethnic background or age.

If there were more focus on the awareness and knowledge of different osteoporosis risk factors, achieving peak bone mass, and diagnosis of low bone mass in young women, perhaps I would not have fractured my bones. My experience has provided me with the motivation to be an advocate for women's health education. I believe all women, regardless of age or ethnic background, deserve access to health education and to be informed of the risk factors and preventative measures for osteoporosis. If I make a difference in even one woman's life, it is a reward that I will hold to be truly priceless.

By Salima Ladak-Kachra, MRT (N), CNMT

Salima is president of The Bone Wellness Centre (a facility for osteoporosis detection, prevention and awareness), where she performs bone densitometry testing and educates and counsels people with low bone mass and osteoporosis.

This story was originally published in the Osteoporosis Society of Canada's newsletter, Osteoblast

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