Bone Health and Osteoporosis - FamilyEducation

Bone Health and Osteoporosis

Learn about the special risks of osteoporosis for women, and ways to prevent it.

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Bones are the supporting structure of our body, giving us our height, posture, stature, and strength. Strong, healthy bones are important to athletic activity, as they form the frame and skeleton for muscles. Having a solid skeleton allows better muscle strength and more efficient movement. Bone is a constantly changing tissue that grows and remodels; this process is known as "bone turnover." Bone turnover is regulated by hormones, which maintain the delicate balance of bone breakdown and bone rebuilding. The most rebuilding occurs early in life, as the body creates the strongest foundation of bones until age 30.

After age 30, there is a natural slowdown in buildup of bone. Over time, bones become naturally thinner. This process occurs much more dramatically in women. Unfortunately, being female is a risk factor for having weaker bones. There are also other risk factors that can compromise a woman's strong skeleton, making bones thinner and weaker. Osteoporosis, the condition of thin, weak bones and increased risk of fractures, is known as a "silent disease" because it is sometimes not diagnosed until several fractures have already occurred. Thin bones can also occur in young, athletic girls and women, causing stress fractures, which can lead to muscle, tendon, and ligament problems and increase the risk of other fractures. Younger girls and women who have frequent stress fractures have a much greater risk of osteoporosis and associated dysfunctional posture and serious fractures later in life.

Women of all ages should make bone health an important concern to avoid the pain, fractures, and time lost from athletic and life activities that occurs with osteoporosis. Strengthening your bones will help guarantee a future of strength, mobility, and reduced hospital and doctor visits! It is very important to do the best you can to protect your bones. A preventive, proactive strategy as outlined here can help you meet this goal.

Osteoporosis is the medical term for the disease process of having bones that are fragile and more easily breakable. Osteoporosis bones look holey and thin under the microscope, similar to fragile sheer lace, rather than the tight-knit pattern of healthy bone. Osteoporosis bones have less dense structure with less hard strong calcium to hold them together and provide strength and stability.

The most common osteoporosis fractures are of the hip, spine, and wrist; these often occur in older women and can be debilitating, painful, and life-changing. Not only do the fractures themselves cause problems as immediate and sometimes ongoing pain and disability, but there can be other medical complications as well, including blood clots, pneumonia, constipation, and impaired nerve function. The cost of treating fractures due to osteoporosis, including surgery, hospitalization, and medical complications, is high. Because bones in osteoporosis are so weak, fractures can also happen without falling. For these reasons, osteoporosis has become a serious issue for medical clinicians and researchers.

Common Areas of Fractures Due to Osteoporosis and Their Consequences

  • Wrist-motion and use might never be the same; two to four months to heal
  • Vertebra (spine)-very painful, can occur without a fall; two to four months to heal with long-term pain
  • Hip-requires surgery and hospitalization; can be very serious; full recovery takes 6 to 12 months
In addition to fractures, posture is impaired in osteoporosis. Because the bones of the spine lose their height, they collapse, causing a slumped posture. The ribs fall closer together, and the bottom ribs press on the pelvis, causing pain. This limits breathing capacity, as the lungs cannot expand, causing increased risk of respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and decreased endurance. Motion becomes more limited, as trunk rotation and shoulder motion are restricted. Neck and back pain is common, due to both the collapsing bones and the weakened, strained muscles.

Long-Term Negative Consequences of Osteoporosis

  • Fractures
  • Dysfunctional and painful posture
  • Surgery
  • Loss of lung volume and breathing capacity
  • Disability
  • Poor endurance
  • Pain
  • Medical costs
  • Loss of strength
  • Hospital stays
  • Loss of height
  • Other medical complications