What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition where our bones become weak and brittle, leading to an increased risk of fractures. Our body is constantly breaking down old bone and rebuilding new bone through a process called ‘remodelling’ and occurs up until our mid 20-30s. However, as we get older, less bone is replaced and our bone mineral density (BMD) and strength declines as part of the normal ageing process. Osteoporosis is more common in women than men, with 29% of women over the age of 75 being diagnosed compared to 10% of men1. .
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
A DEXA scan is a machine that uses low levels of x-rays to measure your BMD and is used to diagnose osteoporosis and osteopenia. Osteopenia refers to having a lower BMD than normal but without an increased risk of fractures, and with early diagnosis you can prevent further bone loss and development of osteoporosis.
Any bone in our body can be affected, and often there are no symptoms or signs until a fracture occurs. Common sites of fractures include wrist, hip, spine, pelvis and upper arm, which can be caused by a minor fall or trip. Hip fractures, in particular, can be quite debilitating with evidence showing a decline in health and risk of increased mortality following a hip fracture and 50% of elderly will require long term nursing care2.
What are the risk factors?
Osteoporosis can affect anyone but people over 50 years are mostly at risk.
Risk factors include3:
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Inadequate intake of calcium
- Low vitamin D levels
- Alcohol use
- Low levels of physical activity
- Being thin or small framed
- Early menopause (before age of 45)
- Long term use of certain medications (corticosteroids)
How to manage osteoporosis?
Staying active and having a healthy diet is a vital part of osteoporosis treatment. Exercise helps increase your muscle strength and improve balance which reduces your chance of falling and therefore reduces your chance of fracturing a bone. Exercise that benefits our bones the most are weight-bearing or impact exercises, which put load through our legs and spine and are essential for good bone health. Some weight bearing activities include jogging, jumping or dancing, whereas swimming or biking are non-weight bearing. Certain physical activities can increase your risk of fracture, so it’s important to discuss this with your doctor or health professional.
Benefits of regular exercise for osteoporosis:
- Improve muscle strength
- Improve balance and coordination
- Improve mobility and function
- Reduce rate of bone loss
- Reduce pain
- Improve mood and overall well-being
- Reduce risk of falls
Calcium and vitamin D are also key components for maintaining healthy and strong bones. Inadequate intake can actually cause our bones to become weaker and more fragile, thus increasing risk of a fracture.
As physiotherapists and exercise physiotherapists, we are able to prescribe safe and effective exercises and assist you in making appropriate lifestyle changes to help improve your bone health.