Osteoporosis is a common condition that affects our bones making them weak and fragile with an increased risk of fracture. Despite being thought of as mainly occurring in women, osteoporosis occurs frequently in men too. But the good news is that lifestyle choices are the number one factor in ensuring your bones stay healthy and strong long into old age.
According to recent statistics from the International Osteoporosis Foundation, worldwide, 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 years and 1 in 5 men will experience osteoporotic fractures in their lifetime.
The Silent Thief
Osteoporosis is often referred to as the “silent thief” as it can leech calcium from our bones for years and only manifests as painful when a fracture occurs. The stage before osteoporosis, called osteopenia, occurs when the bone density is lower than normal but not enough to be classed as osteoporotic. This is often picked up on x-ray as an incidental finding or by routine assessment of bone density using a dexa scan.
The hip, wrist and spine are the most commonly affected areas due to the higher forces travelling through them, especially following a fall. Although bone pain is rare in the absence of a fracture, once a vertebral body (bone of the spine) has fractured it often leads to chronic, persistent lower back pain and is a significant cause of disability. This can occur spontaneously due to the general loads that go through the spine during day-to-day movements. Chronic pain can then lead to a progressive loss of independence and the need for long-term care, especially in the elderly.
Falls leading to fractures also lead to a vicious cycle whereby the elderly person is so fearful of falling gain that they reduce their activity levels and begin to rely heavily on walking aids. This reduced activity leads to weaker bones and a greater chance of falling as their balance also reduces through lack of use. Hence repeat falls and fractures are more likely.