Osteoporosis Awareness

Allan Lee, DPT

June 2009

Osteoporosis is officially diagnosed in 10 million Americans; however, it may affect up to 44 million without their knowledge.  These outstanding numbers warrant an article designed to educate the community on osteoporosis facts, prevention, and treatment.  This quiet disease will often go unnoticed in its early years, while causing our bones to become fragile and more likely to break.  Without preventative measures, the undetected disease can quickly but painlessly progress while remaining hidden until a bone finally fractures.  These broken bones typically occur in the hip, spine, or wrist and can be very debilitating.  As an example, a hip fracture almost always requires major surgery followed by a long stay in the hospital.  Frequently it impairs a person’s ability to walk unassisted and may cause prolonged or permanent disability.  Likewise, spinal or vertebral fractures have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain, and deformity.

Unfortunately, we cannot feel our bones weakening, so we may not realize osteoporosis has begun until a fracture has occurred.  A fracture could stem from various sources, but often the simplest acts, such as a sneeze, a fall or just lifting an object (like grandchildren) become the culprit.  Vertebral fractures are usually felt first as severe back pain and then seen as a loss of height or spinal deformities, such as kyphosis or a stooped posture.  

Osteoporosis will, to a degree, target certain people more than others.  The risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis include: being female; advanced in age; a family history of osteoporosis; people with small and thin body frames; low calcium intake; low vitamin D intake; excessive intake of protein, sodium, and caffeine; inactive lifestyles; smoking and alcohol abuse; and some medications.  Women, for instance, can lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass in the five to seven years after menopause, making them highly susceptible to osteoporosis.

Specialized tests called bone mineral density tests (BMD) are used to help physicians identify osteoporosis.  These tests calculate bone density (thickness) in various sites of the body, pinpointing the bones affected.  Experts recommend a specific type of BMD test using a central DXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) for higher quality results.  As an added incentive for our older generations, Medicare will even pay for BMD testing every two years.  This is a vital step in monitoring ones health because according to a recent survey, 86% of women were not taking measures to prevent osteoporosis. 

Prevention of osteoporosis is paramount for those at risk.  There are five easy steps you should follow to optimize bone health and help prevent osteoporosis:  1) Get the daily recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D.  2) Engage in regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise.  3) Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol.  4) Talk to your healthcare provider about bone health.  5) Have a bone density test and take medication when appropriate.

 For those already suffering from osteoporosis, treatments include the “basic CDE’s”: calcium(C), vitamin D (D), and weight-bearing exercise (E).  Exercise programs should be safe and tailored to meet your individual needs without applying excessive pressure to fragile bones.  An expert on osteoporosis exercises is Sarah Meeks.  She is an author and Physical Therapist from Gainesville, FL who has dedicated her life to developing easy and unique exercise programs for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.  Done correctly, these exercises may relieve pain, improve body alignment, and restore some body height.

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