What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens the bones to the point where they can break from a minor fall—or in advanced cases, even a sneeze. This disease makes the bones porous, decreasing bone mass and deteriorating the bone tissue.
Who is at risk for osteoporosis?
Although osteoporosis mainly affects older adults, this disease can strike at any age. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation:
- Women are four times more likely than men to suffer from osteoporosis.
- Osteoporosis is a major public health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans, or 55% of adults age 50 and older.
- An estimated 10 million Americans already have osteoporosis and nearly 34 million more may have low bone mass, a risk factor for osteoporosis.
Dr. Daniel Zanotti talks about osteoporosis
“Osteoporosis is one of the most common and increasingly problematic health issues we face today. As the Baby Boomers age, we’re starting to see more and more problems due to osteoporosis, such as bone fractures and difficulties in orthopedic surgery procedures, such as hip or knee replacement.
How is osteoporosis affecting Baby Boomers?
“The biggest issue that most people realize about osteoporosis is fractures due to weakened bones. These ‘insufficiency fractures’ may affect many bones, including:
- The hips
- The spinal vertebrae
- The wrist and ankles
- The pelvis
- The feet and hands
“All of these can occur when the bones are weakened due to osteoporosis.”
What is an insufficiency fracture?
“We call a broken bone an insufficiency fracture when the bone isn’t strong enough to support the person’s weight. If you have osteoporosis, something as simple as stepping off a step or curb can cause a fracture that wouldn’t occur if you had normal bone strength.”
How can osteoporosis interfere with joint replacement surgery?
“Osteoporosis makes it very difficult to put a new, artificial joint in place because the bone isn’t strong enough to support it. We have to take this into consideration as we choose implants and methods of treating fractures.
“Another concern is that patients with osteoporosis might not be stable enough to physically support themselves during the physical therapy and rehab process after surgery.”
How can osteoporosis be diagnosed early?
“We’re trying to become much more proactive in identifying people who have osteoporosis. One reliable way to do this is with bone mineral density tests.”
Who should have a bone mineral density test?
“According to guidelines from the National Osteoporosis Foundation, bone mineral density testing should be performed on:
- All women age 65 and older
- Younger postmenopausal women with one or more risk factors (other than being white, postmenopausal and female), such as smoking, use of corticosteroid medications, being small and thin, and having a family history of osteoporosis.
- Postmenopausal women with fractures (to confirm the diagnosis and determine the severity of their osteoporosis).
“Anyone who sustains a type of fracture associated with osteoporosis—such as hip, wrist or spine fracture—automatically qualifies for a bone mineral density test, and we encourage these patients to have the test performed.
“You can find more information about osteoporosis risk factors and bone mineral density by visiting the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s web site at www.nof.org.”
Why are women more prone to osteoporosis?
“Women are born with lower bone density than men, so when they start to lose bone after menopause, they’re already at a much lower threshold. Men and women lose bone at about the same rate after age 60, but because men start with a much higher bone density, they don’t usually reach the critical stage of developing osteoporosis.”
How does menopause affect a woman’s chances of developing osteoporosis?
“Estrogen is one of the key chemical compounds that helps women prevent bone loss. When women’s estrogen levels decrease after menopause or surgical removal of the ovaries, they can begin to lose bone mass dramatically.”
What can be done to treat osteoporosis?
“We’re becoming more proactive in treating patients with osteoporosis through:
“These measures can help prevent fractures in the first place.”
Once a person has osteoporosis, can bone density be rebuilt?
“Traditionally, exercise regimens and medications for osteoporosis were aimed at preventing further bone loss. But some newer medications aim to actually reverse osteoporosis by building bone density.
“New intravenous medications are more invasive, intensive and costly and typically require monitoring with blood tests to check for side-effects. There are also a number of oral osteoporosis medications.”
Can physical therapy help mitigate osteoporosis?
Spine specialist Robert Berkowitz, MD, answers questions about osteoporosis
“Osteoporosis can cause multiple fractures called compression fractures in the spinal vertebrae—without your even being aware of it. This is what causes people to lose height as they age.”
What is a compression fracture?
“The vertebral bodies are bones that make up your spine. They stack on top of one another like building blocks, with a disc between each two vertebrae. As we age, the bones change from being more like concrete to more like Styrofoam.
“A compression fracture occurs when one of these building blocks or vertebral bodies squashes down as if you’d stepped on a piece of Styrofoam.”
How can you treat compression fractures?
“A minimally invasive procedure called kyphoplasty repairs compression fractures of the spine caused by osteoporosis. This procedure restores the height of a bone with a compression fracture and immediately relieves most, if not all, of the patient’s pain.”
Why do some older people develop a hunchback?
“Compression fractures in the back can cause the spine to hunch over because the verbebrae don’t compress uniformly—the front crunches down more than the back of the vertebral bodies. When you see older people with a hunchback, you know they have multiple compression fractures throughout their back.”
Could you have osteoporosis?
This information is simply an introduction to osteoporosis. To diagnose and treat your bone condition, we invite you to schedule a consultation with one of our board-certified orthopedic surgeons.