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Understand osteoporosis symptoms and treatments

Osteoporosis is the weakening of the bones, making them fragile and more prone to fractures. It occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. Normally, bones undergo a continuous process of remodeling, where old bone is broken down and replaced by new bone tissue. However, in osteoporosis, this balance is disrupted, leading to a decrease in bone density and strength.

This condition often develops gradually over years, and it is often referred to as a "silent disease" because it typically doesn't cause symptoms until a bone fracture occurs. Osteoporosis can affect any bone in the body, but fractures commonly occur in the spine, hips, and wrists.

Osteoporosis risk factors and causes

  • Age: Risk increases with age, especially after menopause in women.

  • Gender: Women are at higher risk than men.

  • Family history: Having a family history of osteoporosis or fractures increases risk.

  • Hormonal changes: Low estrogen levels in women, as well as low testosterone levels in men, can contribute to bone loss.

  • Body composition: Small, thin-boned individuals are at higher risk.

  • Lack of physical activity: Inactivity or immobility can lead to bone loss.

  • Diet low in calcium and vitamin D: Inadequate intake of these nutrients can weaken bones.

  • Smoking: Tobacco use can interfere with bone health and decrease bone density.

  • Excessive alcohol consumption: Heavy alcohol intake can reduce bone density and increase fracture risk.

  • Certain medications: Long-term use of corticosteroids, thyroid medications, and some cancer treatments can weaken bones.

  • Medical conditions: Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, and hormonal disorders can affect bone health.

  • Previous fractures: A history of fractures indicates lower bone density and increases the risk of future fractures.

  • Low body weight: Being underweight or having a BMI below 19 may increase the risk of osteoporosis.

  • Ethnicity: Caucasian and Asian individuals are at higher risk compared to other ethnic groups.

  • Prolonged immobilization: Bed rest or prolonged periods of immobility can lead to bone loss and increase fracture risk.


How to prevent osteoporosis

To prevent osteoporosis, consider the following strategies:

  • Get enough calcium: Consume foods rich in calcium such as dairy products, leafy greens, fortified foods, and calcium supplements if needed.

  • Ensure adequate vitamin D intake: Sunlight exposure and vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and eggs can help maintain bone health.

  • Engage in weight-bearing exercise: Regular physical activity, especially weight-bearing and resistance exercises like walking, jogging, dancing, and strength training, can help build and maintain bone density.

  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol: Quit smoking, as it can weaken bones, and limit alcohol consumption to moderate levels, as excessive alcohol intake can negatively impact bone health.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight: Aim for a balanced diet and regular exercise to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, as being underweight can increase the risk of osteoporosis.

  • Ensure hormonal balance: For women, hormonal changes during menopause can affect bone health, so discuss hormone replacement therapy options with a healthcare provider if needed.

  • Prevent falls: Take measures to prevent falls by keeping your home safe, wearing appropriate footwear, and participating in balance exercises to reduce the risk of fractures.

  • Discuss medications with your doctor: Talk to your healthcare provider about medications that may affect bone health, and explore alternatives if necessary.

  • Get regular bone density screenings: Discuss with your healthcare provider about when to start bone density screenings and how often to have them based on your age, risk factors, and medical history.


How to treat osteoporosis 

Treating osteoporosis typically involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes other interventions. Here are some common approaches:

  • Calcium and vitamin D supplementation

  • Medications to increase bone density

  • Bone-building medications

  • Medications to manage underlying conditions

  • Lifestyle modifications, such as walking, jogging, or strength training

  • Fall prevention strategies

  • Regular monitoring


If you have osteoporosis, try these exercises.

An exercise routine for osteoporosis should focus on weight-bearing and resistance exercises to strengthen bones and improve balance and flexibility. Here's a sample routine:

  • Weight-bearing exercises: Include activities that require you to move against gravity while staying upright. Examples include:

    • Walking: Aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking most days of the week.

    • Jogging or running: If appropriate for your fitness level and joint health, incorporate jogging or running into your routine.

    • Stair climbing: Use stairs instead of elevators whenever possible, or incorporate stair climbing exercises into your workout.

    • Dancing: Participate in dance classes or dance at home to music you enjoy.

  • Resistance exercises: These help strengthen muscles and bones. Start with light weights and gradually increase resistance as you become stronger. Examples include:

    • Weight training: Use dumbbells, resistance bands, or weight machines to perform exercises targeting major muscle groups, such as squats, lunges, bicep curls, and chest presses.

    • Bodyweight exercises: Perform exercises like push-ups, squats, lunges, and planks using your own body weight for resistance.

  • Balance exercises: Improve balance to reduce the risk of falls and fractures. Incorporate exercises such as:

    • Tai chi: Practice this gentle form of martial arts known for its slow, flowing movements that promote balance and coordination.

    • Yoga: Participate in yoga classes or follow online videos that focus on poses that enhance balance and stability.

    • Single-leg stands: Stand on one leg while holding onto a stable surface for support, then switch to the other leg.

  • Flexibility exercises: Stretching helps maintain joint mobility and range of motion. Incorporate stretches for major muscle groups into your routine, holding each stretch for 15-30 seconds without bouncing.

  • Core strengthening exercises: A strong core helps support your spine and improve posture. Include exercises such as:

    • Planks: Hold a plank position on your hands or forearms for 20-60 seconds, focusing on maintaining a straight line from head to heels.

    • Bird dogs: Get on your hands and knees, then extend one arm and the opposite leg simultaneously while keeping your core engaged.

Consult with a St. Joseph Health orthopedist or a qualified fitness professional before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have medical conditions or concerns about your bone health. They can help tailor a routine that's safe and effective for you.

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