woman in wheelchair smilingBones form the strong framework holding our bodies together. Although they appear solid on the outside, a look inside reveals spongy tissue that resembles a honeycomb.

Our bone tissue regularly renews: Old bone breaks down, while allowing space for new tissue growth. This process moves at a faster pace during youth, slows down in your 20s and by your 30s, you reach maximum bone mass. After this point, the body starts losing more bone tissue than it creates.

Following this pattern, the “holes” in the honeycomb start to enlarge, while the solid outer layer gradually thins. These factors decrease bone density, resulting in a softer texture. If bone density decreases too far, you may be diagnosed with osteoporosis, a condition that affects millions each year.

Osteoporosis Risks

While everyone’s body goes through this process, osteoporosis risks aren’t uniform for all. The following factors come into play:

  • The amount of bone mass acquired during youth
  • Race and ethnicity – white and Asian individuals have higher risks
  • A history of smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Medication usage, particularly corticosteroids
  • Diet and level of physical activity
  • Calcium intake
  • Family history of osteoporosis or fractures
  • History of celiac disease, cancer, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis or multiple myeloma
  • Hormones

Especially where hormones are concerned, a woman’s estrogen levels significantly decrease after she begins menopause. This change accelerates the body’s bone loss and results in higher osteoporosis risks.

On the other hand, men experience a decrease in testosterone with age, which can speed up after undergoing prostate cancer treatment. Reflecting this, osteoporosis increases risk for broken bones and men experience one-third of annual hip fractures.

Beyond these hormonal factors, individuals with declining or increasing thyroid hormone production or who have overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands also have elevated osteoporosis risks.

Broken Bones and Fall Risks

Broken bones are the biggest risk for individuals living with osteoporosis. Placing most of your weight on a fragile, thinning or brittle bone increases chances of a fracture or break.

Certain body parts are more vulnerable than others, including the hip, wrist and spine. Particularly concerning the spine, vertebrae can weaken and crumble with time, not only causing pain but also affecting posture and height.

Following a fracture or break, someone with osteoporosis may become permanently disabled or experience serious complications. One study even found that these individuals have higher mortality rates than those with high fracture risks but whose bone density has not reached osteoporosis levels.

Getting Screened for Osteoporosis

When bones start to weaken, early signs you may be experiencing osteoporosis include:

  • Back pain
  • Stooped posture
  • Decreased height
  • More frequent broken bones

Due to increased risks with age, it’s recommended women start getting screened for osteoporosis around 65, unless they have a family history of fractures. There is no set time for men but a doctor can recommend when to start based on age and family history.

Osteoporosis screenings begin with a bone mineral density test of the hip and spine to compare your bone density to that of a younger adult. A score of -2.5 or lower places someone at risk for osteoporosis.

Reducing Your Risks

To lessen your risk for developing osteoporosis later in life:

  • Include more calcium and vitamin D in your diet through dairy products, fish, fortified cereals and dark, leafy green vegetables.
  • Perform weight-bearing exercises and workout routines geared toward improving balance and coordination to decrease fall risk.

After a hip, wrist or spine fracture, our staff is here to assist in your loved one’s recovery with short-term rehabilitation services. To learn more, contact West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center today.