WHAT IS OSTEOPOROSIS?
The word “osteoporosis” means, literally “porous bone”. It is a condition where you gradually lose bone material so that your bones become more fragile. As a result, they are more likely to break even after a simple fall. Osteoporosis is quite common in Britain. Each year there are around 70,000 hip, 120,000 spine and 50,000 wrist fractures due to osteoporosis.
WHAT CAUSES OSTEOPOROSIS?
Our bones grow during childhood and adolescence and are at their strongest in the late 20s. As middle age approaches the bones very gradually begin to become weaker. This weakening or thinning of the bones continues as we get older.
The process speeds up in women in the 10 years after the menopause. This is because the ovaries stop producing the female sex hormone oestrogen – and oestrogen is one of the substances that helps keep bones strong. Men suffer less from osteoporosis, because their bones are stronger in the first place and they do not go through the menopause.
WHO IS AT RISK?
All of us are at risk of developing osteoporosis as we get older, which is why elderly people are more likely to break bones when they fall. But there are some people who are more at risk of osteoporosis than others.
These are some of the factors that can make a difference:
Lack of exercise – moderate exercise keeps the bones strong during childhood and throughout adulthood. Anyone who does not exercise, or has an illness or disability which makes exercise difficult, will be more prone to losing calcium from the bones, and so more likely to develop osteoporosis. Exercise is therefore very important in preventing osteoporosis. ( However, for the small number of people who exercise very intensively, particularly women who exercise so much that their periods stop, the risk of the osteoporosis may actually be increased.)
CAN YOU PREVENT OSTEOPOROSIS ?
There is a great deal which can be done at different stages in your life to guard against the condition.
Healthy diet – children and adults need a diet which contains the right amount of calcium. The best sources of this are milk, cheese and yogurt and certain types of fish which are eaten with the bones.Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium. Vitamin D is produced by the body when sunlight falls on the skin, and it can be obtained from the diet ( especially from the oily fish ) or vitamin supplements.
HOW CAN OSTEOPOROSIS BE DETECTED?
There are no obvious, physical signs of osteoporosis, because no one can see the bones getting “thinner”. Osteoporosis can go unnoticed for years without causing any symptoms. Quite often the first indication that someone has a problem is when she/ he breaks a bone in what would normally have been a minor accident. Relatively minor fractures of the spinal bones can cause you to become round-shouldered and to lose height. These minor fractures may be painless but can cause back pain in some people.
If a doctor suspect osteoporosis, she/he can order a scan to test the strength or density of the bones.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF OSTEOPOROSIS?
People with osteoporosis are more likely to break a bone even after a relatively minor accident. Fractures are most likely to the hip, spine or wrist. Fractures are most likely to the hip, spine or wrist. Hip and wrist fractures are usually sudden and the result of a fall. People who have previously had a fracture after a minor fall are at greater risk of further fractures.
Spinal problems occur if the bones in the spine ( vertebrae ) become weak and crush together. If several vertebrae are crushed, the spine will start to curve. This may cause back pain and loss of height and because there is then less space under the ribs, some people may have difficulty breathing. People who have this type of spinal problem also have an increased risk of fractures.
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