Osteoporosis (porous bones) is a disease of the skeleton in which bones lose density and become thin, weak, and brittle. The risk of fracture is greatly increased. Some bone loss is normal with advancing age, but if inadequate bone was developed during youth, or if bone loss is excessive, osteoporosis results.
Osteoporosis has no symptoms; you can’t tell if you have the condition based on how you feel or look. Often, one finds out they have osteoporosis when a bone breaks. Currently, osteoporosis affects 8 million women and 2 million men in the US. Another 18 million people have osteopenia (lower than normal bone density) and are at risk of developing osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
Because osteoporosis exists without symptoms, you can have the disease and not know it. An awareness of risk factors will help you to determine if you are at risk for osteoporosis. The risk factors for osteoporosis include female gender, increased age, low testosterone levels in men, low weight, history of prior fracture, excessive thyroid hormone therapy, Caucasian descent, inactive lifestyle, certain medications such as steroids, family history, low calcium intake, medical history of malabsorbtion, late onset of menstruation, inadequate Vitamin D, excessive use of alcohol, early menopause, excessive caffeine use, smoking cigarettes, failure to menstruate and low estrogen levels in women.
If you think you might be at risk for osteoporosis, check with your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe a bone density test, which is a special low dose x-ray. It is a simple test and takes only a few minutes to complete.
Results of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis often results in multiple painful and disabling fractures. Weakened bones can fracture with normal activities, such as picking up a bag of groceries or a grandchild, rolling over in bed, stepping off a curb, or even sneezing. Falls cause many osteoporotic fractures.
Fractures of the bones of the spine (vertebrae) are the most common type of osteoporotic fracture. They result in decreased height, stooped posture, limited mobility, and disabling pain. The spine curves forward, and the lower ribs may even come to rest on the pelvis. Hip fractures are the most serious and expensive type of fracture. Nearly 25% of individuals who break a hip die within one year of their injury, and approximately 25% of survivors require expensive long-term care. Other commonly fractured sites are the wrist, the ribs, and the shoulder.
Bones lose their strength if they are not used, just as muscles do. Bone is a living tissue and responds to the stresses placed upon it. Therefore, an active lifestyle that stresses bone is important throughout life to develop and maintain healthy bones.
Exercise and Osteoporosis
Exercise is important for all people with osteoporosis, but not all exercises are appropriate for people with osteoporosis. Here are some exercise safety tips to follow:
• Avoid forward bending of the spine. Do not perform sit-ups, abdominal crunches, or toe touches. Forward bending of the spine increases the compressive forces on the bones of the spine and may cause fracture.
• Avoid bringing the knee up forcefully or excessively toward the chest while seated or while lying down. Osteoporotic ribs or vertebrae can be injured with this movement.
• Develop the habit of considering the position of your spine during exercises and everyday activities. Ask yourself, “Can I maintain a straight back with this exercise/activity, or does my spine curve forward?” A forward curved spine increases the risk of fracture as osteoporosis worsens.
If you have osteoporosis or at risk for developing the disease, emphasize weight bearing, strengthening, posture, and balance exercises.
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