Osteoporosis is a common disease that causes thinning and weakening of the bones. Osteoporosis can affect people of any age. However, it most most common in women. Osteoporosis affects 55% of Americans 50 years or older and is the cause of 1.5 million fractures per year. It is important to diagnosis low bone density or osteoporosis early so that steps can be taken to rebuild bone strength and lessen the risk of fracture.
There are many factors that can cause a person to be at risk for developing osteoporosis. It is important to know your risks so that you can be diagnosed and proactive in your treatment.
Factors that cannot be avoided:
- Female gender.
- Small frame.
- Advanced age.
- Hormone levels.
- Predisposing medical conditions.
Factors that CAN be avoided:
- Cigarette smoking.
- Excessive alcohol intake.
- Inactive lifestyle.
- Excessive caffeine intake.
- Lack of weight-bearing exercise.
- Drugs (eg, steroids, heparin).
- Poor health.
- Low weight.
- Calcium-poor diet.
- Low vitamin D levels.
What are the symptoms?
Unfortunately, osteoporosis may be asymptomatic until a fracture occurs. Some common signs are loss of height and a ‘humpback’ appearance. Pain may also occur between your shoulder blades or across your pelvis.
People with osteoporosis may experience fractures in everyday situations that would not occur in persons with healthy bones, such as breaking ribs when receiving a hug, breaking a wrist during a minor fall from standing, or breaking an ankle when stepping off of a curb. These are called fragility fractures and are a red flag for bone disease.
Can Physical Therapy help?
Your physical therapist can develop a specific program based on your individual needs to help improve your overall bone health, keep your bones healthy, and help you avoid fracture. Your physical therapist may teach you:
- Specific exercises to build bone or decrease the amount of bone loss
- Proper posture to protect your spine from fracture
- Proper alignment during activities of daily living
- How to improve your balance so as to reduce your risk of falling
- How to adjust your environment to protect your bone health
Healthy bone is built and maintained through a healthy lifestyle. Your physical therapist will teach you specific exercises to meet your particular needs.
The exercise component for bone building or slowing bone loss is very specific and similar for all ages. Bone grows when it is sufficiently and properly stressed, just as muscle grows when challenged by more than usual weight. Two types of exercise are optimal for bone health: weight-bearing and resistance
What types of exercises are best?
Weight-bearing exercises such as:
- Jogging (if your bone density is higher than -3.0).
- Racquet sports.
- Heel drops.
Resistance exercises such as:
- Weight lifting in proper spine and lower-extremity alignment.
- Use of exercise bands.
- Gravity resistance (eg, push-ups, prone trunk extension with cushion to protect lowest ribs, single-leg heel raises, squats, lunges, sustained standing yoga poses in neutral spine position).
- Exercises that reduce or stabilize kyphosis (hunchback).
- Balance exercises.
Can Osteoporosis be prevented?
Osteoporosis can be prevented by building adequate bone density through childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Building strong bones requires an adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, and regular exercise.
There are steps to take to improve bone health at any age. An active lifestyle that includes resistance and weight-bearing exercise is important to maintain healthy bone. It is also important to avoid habits that promote bone loss, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and an inadequate intake of calcium in your diet. Maintaining good body mechanics and posture also contribute to good bone health. We have no control over the genetic tendencies we have inherited, but we can choose to manage osteoporosis through proper medication, diet, and appropriate exercise
If you are concerned about Osteoporosis, it will beneficial to speak with your primary care physician about order special tests to determine if you have a loss in bone density. Proper diagnosis and treatment are key in the process of preventing a fracture.