Does Osteoporosis Have to Change My Life?
written by Peggy Anglin, PT
Your bone density results are in and your doctor tells you the test indicates you have an increased risk for fracture. The numbers place you in a diagnostic category with the label: osteoporosis. Even though you are the same person you were the day before, the term “osteoporosis” suddenly makes you think of yourself differently – fragile, older, less in control of your future. Questions come to mind: What is the treatment? Can it be reversed? What does it mean to my everyday life?
Your physician may order other tests to determine if there is another medical problem behind the loss of bone density which should be treated. Sometimes other important medications you have to take, lead to bone loss. If your osteoporosis is due to another medical condition or effects of certain medications, it is considered secondary osteoporosis. If your osteoporosis is instead due to age related loss or being postmenopausal, it is called primary osteoporosis. There are medications on the market specifically for the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis and more drugs still in the research stages. Osteoporosis is receiving much attention in the medical and pharmacological professions as over 25 million people in America have this diagnosis. The most common fractures due to osteoporosis occur in the vertebrae, ribs, hip and wrist.
There are other important aspects of your health management to consider besides medication. Healthy lifestyle choices such as a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, no smoking, no excessive alcohol intake, and activities that include weight bearing and resistive exercises promote your optimal bone strength. These are things about your health that you can control. Many risk factors for osteoporosis are out of your control such as: being female (80% of those with osteoporosis are female), having a small frame, being Caucasian or Asian, or having a family history of osteoporosis.
For females, loss of estrogen and for males, low testosterone also leads to a decline in bone density.
Osteoporosis is a diagnosis that can affect your lifestyle especially if you do nothing about it. Without intervention, fractures, spinal deformity, loss of mobility and chronic pain can result. Falls can cause fractures in many different skeletal sites but are most commonly the cause of hip and wrist fractures. Lifting the “wrong” way, lifting something heavy, twisting and bending forward are frequently the cause of vertebral fractures. Poor posture contributes to spinal deformity. There are exercises that can help and exercises that can be risky for those with osteoporosis. Often it is not obvious to the person with osteoporosis what movements are safe or what could be harmful.
Your physician may refer you to physical therapy because of your osteoporosis diagnosis. The role of the physical therapist is to help you learn ways to protect yourself from fracture, manage musculoskeletal pain problems if present, help you restore mobility and confidence in mobility and function, and instruct you in an exercise program specific to your needs.
You can learn ways of doing everyday activities without putting yourself at increased risk of fracture. The height loss and spinal deformities associated with osteoporosis can be avoided or minimized by moving in ways that protect the spine. Fracture risk can also be reduced by maximizing bone strength potential through regular exercise and medical management.
People with osteoporosis can lead full lives pursuing their careers, raising families, enjoying retirement, traveling – but with some appropriate changes in how they do these everyday activities to avoid risks of fall or fracture. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, learn all you can about your treatment options, including physical therapy intervention, to help you be in control of your health.
How Can we Help?
There are steps you can take to decrease your risk of the disease and to strengthen your bones if you already have osteoporosis. The Duke Department of Physical & Occupational Therapy offers programs at the Center for Living campus, and Duke Clinic (Clinic 1E). The purpose of these programs is to educate you about the disease and to give you the personalized tools to prevent osteoporosis, slow down the progression of bone loss, and to prevent future fractures.