What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis - What is it?

Linda Canning

July 3, 2018

Osteoporosis is a condition that affects bone density. The bone becomes more fragile and therefore prone to fracture (breaking). An osteoporotic bone generally doesn’t look any different from the outside, but on the inside it’s pores become more porous. The inside of a healthy bone is like a matrix. However, with Osteoporosis the gaps in the matrix become larger as the bone disappears.

Osteoporosis affects both genders but is more common in females, especially post-menopausal women.

It’s not a painful condition, it develops slowly over years and you might only find out about it when you fracture a bone. The most common sites of fracture are the wrists and hips due to falls. Spinal fractures can occur too. This causes the body of the vertebra to become wedge shaped. This collapse causes a visible change in the posture of the person it’s happened to. They become very stooped and as a result can develop chronic back pain.

X-ray of hips

As we get older..

It is a normal ageing condition but can be present due to hereditary factors, other chronic diseases or because of certain medications. Once our bones have become fully formed they start to go the other way...all downhill from our mid 30’s(!) So you can see, it’s really important to look after our bones from a very early age.

In fact, the exercise we do before the age of 30 is so important as it makes our bones as strong as possible (peak bone mass) and therefore the ageing process will be delayed. Maintaining a good level of fitness helps the density of the bones to remain, especially with resistance training and body weight training e.g. walking, Pilates, Yoga.

Hormones are needed for bone development. In women it’s oestrogen and in men it’s testosterone. That’s why it is more prevalent in post-menopausal women, as their oestrogen levels lessen. In both sexes growth hormone is needed too.

Fit older man and lady laughing

Nutrition is obviously an important factor too. But how?

The body replaces its bone by around 10% a year.  Osteoblasts make new bone and osteoclasts breakdown old bone. The process of bone formation is called ossification. Osteoblasts take calcium compounds from the blood and deposit them into the bone. Vitamin D is needed for calcium to be absorbed into the blood from the small intestine. Calcium and Vitamin D are therefore important for strong bones. We get most of our Vitamin D from sunlight exposure. About 10-15 minutes a day on our face and hands (without sun protector!) should be plenty. Then, slather in sun screen to protect your skin from burning. Eat plenty of dark leafy green veggies (yum), dairy (if you can tolerate it) and oily fish. Certain foods prevent the uptake of nutrients so best to avoid these including fizzy drinks, too much caffeine and alcohol (boo).

Our bodies adapt and change according to the stresses we put it under. In the case of good stress, like weight training, the bone remains strong to adapt and cope. It’s a bit like when you train a muscle to get stronger, except for bone it needs to be a level of pressure that loads the bones at the right place and needs time to build up if you’re not used to it. Too much and even someone without osteoporosis will fracture, e.g. a runner who hasn’t worked up to that 10km slow enough, who then breaks a metatarsal in their foot

The same changes happen if we put our body under a constant low level negative stress for example, with bad posture. If we sit slumped at a computer and sit all day our bones mould into that shape. I see this happening in our youngsters, who are addicted to their mobile phones, their play stations and studying. They never look up! We don’t extend enough. But the good news is, we are malleable and over time with the right exercises we can change for the better. It’s never too late to improve posture, strength and to lessen the effects of the inevitable ageing.

Pretty young lady sitting in a grassy verge soaking up the sunlight
Man bending to lift weights
Woman sitting at her desk clasping her low back in pain

Can you still have osteopathic treatment with osteoporosis?

Yes!! I treat many patients with the condition. We take a thorough case history to make sure any treatment we do is right for you. During the interview, be sure that you tell us you have osteoporosis. We avoid certain heavier techniques to prevent any undue harm, but rest assured you are in safe hands at Bearsden Osteopaths.

In summary

Exercise helps to maintain bone density, muscle strength, coordination and balance which prevents falls which is paramount in preventing fracture.

Eat well; eat to nourish your body. It’ll thank you for it when you’re older.

It is safe to have osteopathic treatment when you have osteoporosis – just be sure we know first!