Understanding Osteoporosis and How to Keep Bones Healthy
Keeping bones healthy, through life and through sports
Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month is observed every May to raise awareness about the importance of bone health and to encourage people to take steps to prevent osteoporosis. The condition causes bones to become weak and brittle, making them more likely to break. It’s common, especially among older adults and women, and it can be the reason behind serious injuries.
The word ‘osteoporosis’ means ‘porous bone.’ It is a disease that weakens bones, and if you have it, you are at a greater risk for sudden and unexpected bone fractures.
“Osteoporosis means that you have less bone mass and strength. Bone is living tissue that is constantly being broken down and replaced,” says Excelsior Orthopaedics surgeon Dr. James Slough. “Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new
bone doesn’t keep up with the loss of old bone.”
The disease often develops without any symptoms or pain, and it is usually not discovered until the weakened bones cause painful fractures.
You might think: What’s the big deal over a broken bone? Perhaps you broke a bone as a child and recovered several weeks later. According to a May American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology article on osteoporosis, about 90% of peak bone mass is reached by age 20, and it reaches is max by age 30. It’s maintained until around age 50, when bone mass starts to decline. That means a bone fracture or break when we’re older can be more complicated and more dangerous if we’ve lost bone mass. Bone health is important because our bones provide support for our body, protect our organs, and allow us to move. To maintain healthy bones, it’s important to get enough calcium and vitamin D through diet and/or supplements, engage in regular physical activity, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and get regular bone density screenings as recommended by a physician.
Since Excelsior Orthopaedics physicians specialize in sports medicine and treating athletes, there are factors besides age and sex we can look for in trying to understand the underlying reasons why someone who is otherwise healthy and younger gets a stress fracture. In addition to bone density screenings, a patient could have his or her Vitamin D levels tested, and a healthcare provider could review that person’s clinical history to check for any lifestyle factors that could affect bone mass. Getting enough calcium and Vitamin D is extremely important. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, teens and teen athletes should get 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day, and post-menopausal women and men over 70 should get 1,200 mg per day. Most other ages should get about 1,000 mg per day. Sources of calcium exist in both dairy and nondairy products or supplements. Vitamin D is produced from several minutes of healthy skin exposure, though how effective it is depends on a person’s age, skin color, sunscreen use, and other factors. Unfortunately, it’s not rich in many foods but is found in oily fishes and dairy products.
Who gets osteoporosis?
About 200 million people are estimated to have osteoporosis throughout the world. In the U.S., the figure is about 54 million people. We’ve all heard genetics and sex can play a role in your likelihood of developing osteoporosis. It’s true that women are predisposed because their bone mass decline happens much faster than in men after menopause. Although osteoporosis occurs in both men and women, women are four times more likely to develop the disease than men. There are currently about two million men in the U.S. who have osteoporosis and some 12 million more who are at risk of developing the condition. Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races. But white and Asian women, especially older women who are past menopause, are at highest risk.
After age 50, one in two women and one in four men will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetimes. Another 30% have low bone density that puts them at risk of developing osteoporosis. This condition is called osteopenia. Osteoporosis is responsible for more than two million fractures each year, and this number continues to grow. There are steps you can take to prevent osteoporosis from ever occurring. Treatments can also slow the rate of bone loss if you do have osteoporosis.
Prevention is important to slow down the loss of bone strength over time
You can strengthen your bones with certain exercises, lifestyle changes, and, in some cases, bone medications. Improving muscle strength and balance can also help prevent falls that lead to fractures and disability.
Weight-bearing exercise is the most important type of exercise for preventing osteoporosis. Your body supports its own weight against gravity, and the load of gravity on your bones activates bone cells to strengthen weaker areas. That is why astronauts can lose bone when they are in outer space, where gravity has much less force.
Doing regular weight-bearing exercise after young adulthood can help prevent further bone loss and strengthen bone. It also strengthens your muscles and reduces your risk of falls.
Put simply, “Get up, get out, and get moving,” says Dr. Slough. Dr. Slough appreciates the message in this older American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons video, highlighting the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle in a comical way.
If you have osteoporosis or osteopenia (now called low bone mass), these are some good weight-bearing exercises to try:
- Walking on level ground or a treadmill
- Hiking (use a walking stick for extra support, if needed)
- Walking in place in the corner of a room, holding the back of a chair, if necessary, for balance
- Running on level ground or a treadmill
- Climbing stairs (use the handrails for safety)
- Dancing, including aerobics or Zumba
- Lifting weights without straining your back (lying down can protect your vertebrae)
- Doing sit-to-stand exercises — starting with an elevated seat height, and progressing to a lower chair as your legs get stronger
- Standing against a wall and sliding down into a slight knee bend, holding that position for 10 seconds, and repeating this a few times (you can hold the back of a chair, if necessary, for support). This can strengthen your thigh
- Yoga and Tai-chi for balance and strengthening
During Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, organizations and healthcare professionals promote bone health awareness through educational campaigns, community events, and other initiatives. This year, Excelsior Orthopaedics and Buffalo Surgery Center team members are once again wearing white throughout the month of May which we hope our patients will take note of and ask us about! By increasing awareness and encouraging people to take action to protect their bone health, we can help prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of related injuries and complications.