Sarah Cowgill (Physiotherapist – Burnie)
Tuesday the 20th October is World Osteoporosis Day and its time to think about your bone health.
Many people do not know what Osteoporosis is and can get it confused with Osteoarthritis and other conditions.
Osteoporosis is a disease of our bone density and structure.
Our bones are constantly being made, dying, and then reforming. When we are young, this process happens in a way that more bone is being formed than that which dies which results in an increase in bone mass and therefore height. As we get older this process starts to slow so our bones can start to become less dense. This is a normal occurrence, but it can be sped up by certain factors which can cause you to be at a higher risk of Osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis can subsequently lead to a higher risk of fractures and can lead to a loss of independence, disability, and sometimes even premature death.
Which factors can lead to Osteoporosis?
- Family history
- Calcium and Vitamin D levels – calcium forms the building blocks for bone formation, and we need vitamin D for our bodies to absorb calcium.
- Low hormone levels i.e. early menopause
- Thyroid conditions
- Malabsorption conditions
- Chronic diseases
- Some medications
- Low levels of activity
- Smoking and alcohol
Diagnosis is made by a bone density scan and assesses the density of your bones. The results will be one of the following:
How to Prevent and Treat Osteoporosis
Maintaining high calcium levels
- The below chart states the recommended calcium intake people should try to aim for at different points of the life cycle. Higher levels are needed in teenagers, women over 50 years and men over 70 years. If you are unsure how much calcium you are having take a look at the list of common foods.
Ensuring adequate vitamin D levels
The main way we can get vitamin D is through absorption from the sun. In Tasmania, during winter, people can become Vitamin D deficient as it is recommended you are outside for 2-3 hours a week to gain the Vitamin D required. This can be hard with short day light hours and working weeks. Where the UV is below 3, sun protection is not required to ensure we can take in vitamin D but not be at risk of skin damage. If you feel you may be Vitamin D deficient you can organise a blood test through your GP. If results are low they may recommend a supplement.
Exercise is great at putting stress on our bones which helps to stimulate bone cell growth. Exercise also increases the size, strength, and capacity of our muscles.
There are however specific types of exercise that provide us with the greatest benefit in preventing Osteoporosis.
- Weight bearing exercise – exercise on your feet.
- Dancing, brisk walking, jogging, skipping, ball sports
- Progressive strength exercises
- Body weight or free weight exercises.
Exercises which involve more impact promote denser bones. Thinking jumping > swimming.
Exercise must be consistent and progressive (increases in difficulty) however increases in the variety of exercise is also necessary.
If you are osteoporotic or osteopenic, it is always a good idea to add in some exercises that help to improve/maintain your balance. This is to prevent falls and therefore your risk of fracture.
If you are unsure what exercises to perform come and see one of our Accredited Exercise Physiologists or Physiotherapists. You can make an appointment by calling our Burnie clinic on 64314586.
If you are diagnosed with Osteoporosis then treatment strategies are very similar to preventative strategies. Our aim is to continue to promote overall high bone density levels and/or prevent further decrease in these levels.
Doctors may also prescribe some medications that can help to change the bone cell break down and formation relationship.
If you are unsure if you should be worried about Osteoporosis check out https://www.knowyourbones.org.au/ and take the quiz.