What is it?
Osteoporosis is a progressive disease in which decreased bone strength increases the risk of bone fractures. It is the most common cause of broken bones in the elderly. Unfortunately, it is a nearly silent disease until a fracture occurs. Bones may weaken to such a degree that they can break with minor stress or even spontaneously. Chronic pain and reduced function often occur following a break.
Who and Why?
Osteoporosis affects approximately 70% of those over age 80 and 15% of Caucasian people in their 50's. It tends to affect more women than men and is seen more predominantly in people with Caucasian or Asian backgrounds. Bone loss increases after menopause which is seen as the major cause in women, however, bone loss may occur as a result of a number of other diseases or treatments. This includes alcoholism, anorexia, hyperthyroidism, surgical removal of the ovaries and kidney disease to name a few. Additionally, not getting enough exercise and smoking are also risk factors.
Often there are no symptoms until a fracture occurs. The wrist, hip, shoulder and spine are the most common fracture sites. Compression fractures of the spine may result in back pain, radiating nerve pain as well as the often seen stooped posture.
Prevention and Treatment
Efforts to prevent the disease and fractures include a good diet, proper exercise (including resistance training and weight bearing exercises), fall prevention education, lifestyle changes (i.e. smoking cessation) and sometimes medications.
Physical Therapy can play an important role in the management of your osteoporosis, whether it is in the form of prevention of injury or in the healing process after an injury. PT's can assist in helping you be maximally active in a safe manner with proper exercises, teach you proper bending/lifting techniques as well as fall prevention strategies. They may also help treat symptoms after a fracture in order to relieve pain, improve postural habits and help prevent future fractures. A Physical Therapist can be one of your best allies in your efforts to have a long, healthy, active life.