The bones that make up the skeleton appear hard and durable. But while the outer layer is just so, the inner tissue is spongy and riddled with small holes, akin to a honeycomb. And the tissue is in a constant state of flux, being torn down into its component parts, then built back up.
For most of our lives, tissue turnover occurs at a fairly constant rate. We can even add bone mass, which supports our active lifestyles. Most people, though, reach their peak bone mass by age 30. As we get older, we start to lose more bone than we build; the small holes in the tissue grow larger; the solid outer layer thins — and the bones become less dense.
When the loss grows too great, we can develop a condition called osteoporosis, which means “porous bones,” and we become prone to spontaneous fractures. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates 54 million Americans have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for developing full-blown osteoporosis.
At Foot and Ankle Care of Passaic in Lodi, New Jersey, Dr. Sean Rosenblum deals with all things podiatric, from ankle sprains to warts, and everything in between. He and his expert staff understand that routine foot care is important to prevent and treat serious conditions like osteoporosis, and that giving your feet the attention they need can lower your risk of serious injury. Here’s what you need to know.
The risks for developing osteoporosis
There are a number of risk factors for developing osteoporosis, including:
- Gender: Women are more likely to develop it than men.
- Age: With increased age comes increased risk.
- Race: The highest risk is for white and Asian populations.
- Family history: A parent or sibling with osteoporosis elevates your risk, especially if they fractured a hip.
- Body frame: Small body frames increase risk since they have less bone mass from which to draw.
- Decreased estrogen: Lower estrogen levels weaken bone; women at menopause have the highest risk.
Because the body isn’t producing as much bone tissue, people with osteoporosis (or osteopenia, a precursor condition) are at serious risk for fractures. The most common fractures occur in the spine and the hip.
As we age, the discs that cushion the vertebrae in our spine lose moisture and therefore the ability to absorb shock. Add to that the mineral loss from the vertebrae themselves, and you have the perfect conditions for spontaneous fractures. Sometimes even a sneeze or a cough can cause a debilitating fracture in the spine.
Hip fractures are most commonly caused by falls. They can easily result in disability, and they may lead to an increased risk of death within a year after the injury.
As the bones lose their strength, the foot changes, too. The arches become less pronounced, and this can lead to a small loss of height. More importantly, your gait shifts with the arch, and this can easily lead to instability and a loss of balance, putting you at a greater risk for falls — and fractures.
What you can do about osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is referred to as a “silent disease” because there are no symptoms until you suffer a fracture. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it, though.
If you have any of the risk factors for the disease, ask your doctor about a bone densitometry test (DXA or DEXA scan), which measures your bone mineral density (BMD). Your result is compared to the average BMD of someone of your gender and race at the age of peak bone mass, which produces a T score:
- -1 to +1 reflects a normal bone density
- -1 to -2.5 reflects osteopenia
- -2.5 or lower reflects osteoporosis
Every one-point drop below 0 doubles your risk for a fracture.
Good prevention strategies are also good treatment strategies. Calcium is a mineral that strengthens bone. You can get it in the foods you eat (e.g. milk; dairy; dark green, leafy vegetables) or from dietary supplements. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. You can get it from sunlight, dietary supplements, or foods including milk, fatty fish, eggs, and fortified cereals.
Exercise, especially the weight-bearing kind, also helps your bones. Muscle action reminds the bone cells that they need to keep the tissue dense and strong.
A number of medications are used to treat bone loss. The most widely are the bisphosphonate class, usually prescribed to people diagnosed with osteoporosis after a DXA scan or who have had a fracture. There are some side effects, so make sure you speak with your doctor about the risks.
To learn more about your feet and osteoporosis, give Foot and Ankle Care of Passaic a call at 973-218-5720, or schedule a consultation online. We’re here to help.