Submitted by Elizabeth Madlem, APN, The Bone Health Clinic at Millennium Pain Center
Osteoporosis — a bone disease that happens when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both — is often called a “silent disease” because you can’t feel that your bones are getting weaker. People often have no idea that they have osteoporosis until they break a bone. Sometimes, bones become so weak that a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a hip to fracture or a vertebra to collapse. It’s important to realize that there isn’t a cure for osteoporosis. Once you’ve lost bone, it’s gone! However, there are ways to slow down or stop further bone loss from occurring, and medications can sometimes help to rebuild bone strength.
It is vital to keep bones healthy and strong and take action to minimize loss of bone as you get older. A comprehensive osteoporosis treatment program includes a focus on lifestyle changes, such as proper nutrition and exercise, as well as safety issues to prevent falls that may result in fractures. Following are steps you can take to lower your risk of developing this potentially crippling disease and to keep it from getting worse.
A healthy, balanced diet is essential for minimizing bone loss and maintaining overall health. Calcium and Vitamin D are especially important for bone health. As you age, your body becomes less efficient at absorbing calcium and other nutrients. Older adults also are more likely to have chronic medical problems and to use medications that may impair calcium absorption.
Vitamin D is required for proper absorption of calcium from the intestine. Vitamin D is made in the skin after exposure to sunlight, but only a few foods naturally contain significant amounts of vitamin D, including fatty fish and fish oils. Although many people obtain enough vitamin D naturally, studies show that vitamin D production decreases in older adults, in people who are housebound, and during the winter.
While Vitamin D and calcium will not completely stop bone loss, it will guarantee that a supply of the materials the body uses for bone formation and maintenance is available. Supplemental calcium or Vitamin D should be taken as recommended by your physician.
Like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Physical activity is needed to build and maintain bone throughout adulthood. The evidence suggests that the most beneficial physical activities for bone health include strength training or resistance training. A properly designed exercise program that builds muscles and improves balance and coordination provides other benefits for older people, including helping to prevent falls and maintaining overall health and independence. Exercise should not put any sudden or excessive strain on your bones, and if you have osteoporosis, you should avoid high-impact exercise. To help ensure against fractures, a physical therapist or rehabilitation medicine specialist can recommend specific exercises to strengthen and support your back, teach you safe ways of moving and carrying out daily activities, and recommend an exercise program that is tailored to your circumstances.
Stop unhealthy habits: smoking is bad for your bones as well as your heart and lungs. Smokers also may absorb less calcium from their diets. Limit alcohol intake as too much alcohol can damage your bones, as well as put you at risk for falling and breaking a bone.
Preventing falls is a special concern for men and women with osteoporosis. Falls can increase the likelihood of fracturing a bone in the hip, wrist, spine, or other part of the skeleton. Falls can be caused by environmental factors such as throw rugs or slippery floors, as well as physical factors such as impaired vision or balance, chronic diseases that affect mental or physical functioning, and certain medications, such as sedatives and antidepressants. It is important that individuals with osteoporosis be aware of any physical changes that affect their balance or gait, and that they discuss these changes with their health careprovider.
Some medications that are prescribed for other conditions can contribute to bone loss, so be sure to discuss all medication with your doctor. There are a number of medications that are used to prevent osteoporosis by slowing down the rate of bone loss and increasing bone density. There is medication that can actually rebuild bone, but it is usually only prescribed for those patients who have a very high risk of breaking a bone. As with all medication, there are side effects, and everyone responds differently, so a drug that may be right for one person, may not be right for you.
Preventing osteoporosis is a lifelong endeavor. Talk to your healthcare provider about osteoporosis and ask if a bone density test is right for you. A bone density test is safe, simple, and painless. It involves no injections and takes only minutes to complete.
For more information on bone health and how to reduce your risk of fracture, you may contact The Bone Health Clinic at Millennium Pain Center, 309-662-4321. They have a new location at 2406 East Empire St. in Bloomington, next to Orthopedic & Sports Enhancement Center. Elizabeth Madlem is a certified bone-health specialist. The clinic provides screening, diagnosis, and a comprehensive treatment plan for people who have or are at risk of developing osteoporosis. For more information on any type of pain, contact Millennium Pain Center 309-664-4321.