About 924,000 Australians struggle with osteoporosis on a daily basis. Moderate to severe osteoporosis can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life due to frequent fractures and chronic pain. This can even lead to disability and early death.

So, let’s take a closer `look at osteoporosis. In this article, we’ll explore what causes this condition, the symptoms of osteoporosis, prevention, and treatment. What should you know?

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a medical condition where the body’s bones become brittle and weak due to a lower bone mineral density and mass. While bone is living tissue that can break down and replace itself, osteoporosis makes the bones more prone to fracture, resulting in increased pain and injury. Osteoporosis develops when the formation of new bone fails to keep up with this loss and impacts about 3.8% of the general population.

While females are much more likely to experience this condition, both sexes can be diagnosed with osteoporosis. Interestingly, osteopenia is the condition that occurs before osteoporosis. However, it doesn’t always mean someone will face an osteoporosis diagnosis.

Basically, osteopenia indicates a lower bone density than normal, but it’s not low enough to be categorised as “osteoporosis.” Yet, if osteopenia progresses and nothing is done to slow or reverse the decline in bone density, individuals will likely develop osteoporosis with time.

What Causes Osteoporosis?

Surprisingly, osteoporosis might not exactly be an “all of a sudden” situation. Your lifestyle choices can lead to an osteoporosis diagnosis later in life. For instance, if you have a low calcium intake throughout your life, you are more likely to develop osteoporosis. Calcium is necessary to maintain and increase bone density.

Other risk factors include:

  • Eating Disorders: If you have a history of eating disorders, severe food restriction, or being underweight, you may be at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Gastrointestinal Surgery: Some types of surgery can reduce the surface area where calcium and other crucial nutrients are absorbed. While you may lose weight, this can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
  • Hormone Issues: Decreased sex hormones, thyroid problems, and overactive adrenal glands may lead to lower bone density than normal. In fact, when estrogen falls during menopause, women are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
  • Medications: Some medications interfere with your body’s process of laying down new bone. These medications may include corticosteroids, seizure medication, cancer therapies, and gastric reflux medications.
  • Medical Conditions: Individuals with celiac disease, liver or kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, multiple myeloma, or inflammatory bowel diseases are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
  • Lifestyle: If you spend a lot of time sitting, consume alcohol excessively, or smoke, you are also at a higher risk of an osteoporosis diagnosis.

On top of the above risk factors, there are various other factors outside of your control that may impact your risk of osteoporosis, including increasing age, family history, sex (you’re more likely to be diagnosed with osteoporosis if you’re female), and having a small body frame or size.

Osteoporosis Symptoms

Many individuals don’t even realise they have bone tissue loss or low bone density until a visit with their doctor. At the same time, there are a few tell-tale signs indicating you might have osteoporosis, including:

  • Back pain
  • Posture stopping
  • Easily breaking bones
  • Height loss
  • Receding gums
  • Jaw bone loss
  • Decreased grip strength

If you notice any of the signs above, book an appointment with your doctor. Receiving the right diagnosis can help set you on the path toward improving bone density and proper management.

Senior old elderly man grandfather touching his back, suffering from backpain, sciatica, sedentary lifestyle concept. Spine health problems. Healthcare, insurance

Osteoporosis Prevention

Luckily, there are many factors within your control that you can use to prevent osteoporosis. These include:

Adjusting Your Diet

For any function of health, your body needs the proper resources. This usually involves what you eat. A diet comprised of pre-packaged and processed foods is frequently low in nutrition and high in calories, often resulting in ill health. However, a diet consisting of whole foods ensures you get the nutrients your body needs in the right quantities.

When it comes to osteoporosis prevention, specifically, calcium intake is of the utmost importance. The average adult requires about 1000 milligrams of calcium per day, increasing to 1200 milligrams after the age of 50 for women and the age of 70 for men.

A diet rich in calcium helps maintain adequate bone density. If you don’t get enough calcium via your diet, your body, unfortunately, uses calcium from the bones for other necessary functions. At the same time, it’s always about having just enough but not too much. A diet with too much calcium can quickly result in kidney stones and potentially increase your risk of heart disease.

Some high-calcium foods include low-fat dairy products, spinach, sardines, and almonds.

Additionally, vitamin D is important for those at risk of osteoporosis, helping the body absorb calcium and enhancing bone health. While most of your vitamin D is obtained from the sun (many health experts recommend getting about 15-20 minutes of sun each day for this very reason), you can also obtain vitamin D from various foods, including eggs, fatty fish (such as trout and salmon), and liver.

Participating in Regular Exercise

If you haven’t already heard, movement is necessary to help your body thrive. Weight-bearing activities, in particular, encourage the body to lay down new bone, increasing bone density.

For osteoporosis prevention, it’s recommended to:

    • Strength Train: This will build strong muscles and bones, improving overall health. Perform bodyweight exercises, such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups, and more. Aim for about 3-4 times a week.
    • Perform Daily Weight-Bearing Exercises: This may involve brisk walking, jogging, dancing, or even activities such as tennis. Yet, you may want to proceed with caution with jumping exercises or jogging if you have joint issues or pain.
    • Do Regular Balance Exercises: Osteoporosis involves an increased risk of fractures. Falls, in particular, can be devastating with low bone density. Thus, practising balance exercises can ensure you reduce your risk of falls and bone fractures. Pilates, yoga or Tai Chi may also fall into this category.
    • Stretch: Any exercise routine is all about balance. Stretching can ensure you maintain flexibility and function of your joints and muscles, preventing injury, which could mean time spent outside your regular exercise regime.

If you’re new to exercise, discussing your options with your doctor before starting any new program or routine is important.

Limiting or Avoiding Caffeine, Alcohol, and Smoking

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is important for preventing any condition or disease. Consuming caffeine can actually lower the calcium your body absorbs by increasing the movement time of food and liquids through the digestive tract. Make sure you stick to one to two cups a day.

On top of this, if you’re a smoker, you may benefit from quitting since smoking is associated with a lower bone density. Excessive alcohol consumption may also increase your risk of osteoporosis, meaning you should limit this as much as possible and aim to drink no more than one to two drinks a day.

Physiotherapy for Osteoporosis

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with osteoporosis, physiotherapy and exercise therapy can help you manage your condition, reduce your risk of fractures, and improve your bone density. A physiotherapist does this in a number of ways, including:

Education

Your physiotherapist will, first and foremost, perform a thorough assessment of your condition and refer to any notes sent by your doctor. From there, they can provide advice on daily activities and home life. For instance, they may recommend you walk each day to try to improve your bone density or that you use heat or ice to relieve pain at home. They may also instruct you on proper fall prevention tactics and prescribe specific exercises for you to perform each day, as outlined in the section below.

Exercise Therapy

When working with your physiotherapist, they will guide you through balance exercises, such as standing on one foot, and strength exercises to improve your bone density and strength. Each exercise program is unique to the individual and customised to you and your needs.

These exercises often involve weight-bearing activities to signal to your body to lay down new bone. Your physiotherapist will show you how to perform certain exercises and inform you how often to perform them.

Pain Relief

Your physiotherapist can also offer advice regarding pain relief. They may advise you to use hot or cold therapy to help with pain, depending on your situation, as well as recommend any braces or aids to help post-fracture or for support.

With the right treatment and management, you can learn how to improve your bone density, despite being diagnosed with osteoporosis. This can improve your quality of life and help you maintain your independence. If you want guidance regarding your osteoporosis management, the Healthy Bodies Physiotherapy team is here for you. Contact us today to book your appointment—or book your appointment online—and begin your journey toward better health!

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Holly Clayton

Physiotherapist

Holly graduated with a Doctor of Physiotherapy with Distinction from The University of Melbourne. Prior to this she completed a Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science (majoring in Exercise Physiology) at Deakin University. From her education, she has attained a wealth of knowledge and experience in numerous clinical settings including, musculoskeletal, orthopaedic, paediatrics and geriatrics.