What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a preventable disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. If not prevented, or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress quietly and painlessly until a bone breaks. These broken bones, also known as fractures, occur typically in the wrist, spine and hip.
Any bone can be affected, but fractures of the hip and spine are a special concern. A hip fracture almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery. It can impair a person’s ability to walk unassisted and may lead to prolonged or permanent disability or even death.
Spinal fractures can also be very detrimental with serious consequences such as loss of height, deformity and severe back pain.
Millions of Americans are at risk and while women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis, men can also suffer from osteoporosis.
Am I at risk for developing osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis affects about half of the women in the US over the age of 50. Several factors may increase your risk of developing this condition. Natural menopause and the removal of the ovaries typically reduce the levels of estrogen in the body. This hormonal change can greatly accelerate bone loss.
Heredity affects the amount of bone mass you have as well as the rate of bone loss as you age. Therefore, if you have a family history of diagnosed osteoporosis or broken bones in elderly relatives, you might be more at risk. Women who are small boned or very slender start with less bone mass. They can afford to lose even less bone mass before osteoporosis occurs. Women of Asian or Northern European descent are more at risk.
What can I do?
Eliminating those risk factors within your control can help to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, or to live with it more safely. Inactivity promotes accelerated bone loss. Exercise and physical activity can help maintain strong bones through decreased bone loss, which helps prevent injury.
As you are probably well aware, calcium is the essential mineral for maintaining healthy, strong bones, If you are not consuming enough calcium, your body will break down the bone cells to get the calcium it needs.
The best source of calcium is food, but if you cannot get enough from your diet, supplementing may be necessary. However, too much calcium can be harmful. Intake of salt and excess protein can cause loss of calcium through urine. In addition, high fiber intake can reduce the uptake of calcium during digestion. Please consult your physician regarding diet and proper calcium intake level for your individual needs.
Women who smoke are more likely to develop osteoporosis. Smoking may reduce peak bone mass, cause early menopause and interfere with hormone replacement therapy. Both alcohol and caffeine interfere with your body’s use of calcium. Heavy drinking, by itself, can cause osteoporosis. In addition, people who drink alcohol in excess often have poor diets and get little exercise. Some drugs may increase the risk of osteoporosis. Ask your physician regarding the medications you are taking.
Can osteoporosis be diagnosed?
Yes, but diagnosis can be difficult. X-rays can detect osteoporosis, but only after about 30% of your bone loss has already occurred. Other tests, such as photon absorbtionmetry and computed tomography, may be more accurate than standard x-rays for detecting and monitoring bone density.
What are the warning signs?
Osteoporosis is difficult to detect without medical testing because most warning signs do not occur until the disease is quite advanced. Some warnings are loss of height, sharp back pain, fractures (wrist, spine, hip) and curvature of the upper back. When spinal bones weaken from osteoporosis, the upper back may curve forward, forming a “Dowager’s hump.” In addition, dental problems can provide some insight When bone loss occurs, the jawbone can shrink causing dentures to fit poorly or teeth to loosen.
What treatment is available?
Bone is living tissue and responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Just as a muscle gets bigger and stronger, a bone becomes stronger and denser as a response to increased physical activity.
The two most important means of exercise to help maintain and build bone density are weight bearing and resistive exercises. Weight bearing activities are walking, jogging, stain climbing and dancing. Bicycling and swimming are not considered weight-bearing exercise.
Resistive training utilizes muscular activity to strengthen muscle and increase bone mass These activities include weight training with free weights and machines like those found in clubs and gyms.
Prior to starting an exercise program, please consult your physician or health care professional for recommendations based on your individual needs. If you have already been diagnosed with Osteopenia, Osteoarthritis or Osteoporosis please ask your physician about having a trained Physical or Occupational Therapist asses your need for a condition-specific exercise program.