What is Osteoporosis?

Throughout life, bone cells are constantly being removed and replaced from within your skeleton. When the rebuilding rate becomes less active than removal rate, bones are left weaker and more porous.

The bones in later life become much less dense than they are in young healthy skeletons, and this is the start of osteoporosis.

It is most common in women over the age of 50, but affects at least 1 man in 20 after the age of 50. In total it is thought to affect two million men and women in the UK.

How can I tell if I have Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis can ultimately affect the whole skeleton, but tends to be most troublesome in the spine and long bones of the thigh. In advanced cases it can be recognised in elderly people, usually women, as extreme forward curvature of the spine.

A loss of height is often an early sign of the disease, but this can occur in 'simple' old age, where there is no osteoporosis.

Some of the first signs may be back pain, a change in the shape of your back, or you may have recently broken a wrist or hip in what seemed a very minor accident.

If other members of your family have suffered from osteoporosis you may be more at risk and should watch more carefully for the onset of symptoms.

The effects can be seen on X-rays and bone scans, as a thinning of the cortex, or outer layer of hard bone, but your GP or one of the specialist Osteoporosis Clinics should usually arrange this.

So can Osteoporosis be cured?

This is not a condition that can be cured, but so many of the effects of the disease can be lessened, slowed or even halted, so that understanding the problem and the preventative methods is absolutely crucial.

What are the causes?

The causes are varied and include prolonged inactivity, long-term, high doses of cortico-steroids, metabolic disease, total hysterectomy (where the ovaries are removed) and changes that occur after the menopause. This last cause is the most common, and so is therefore much more evident in women than men, and is a direct result of a lack in the female hormone, oestrogen.

However, men cannot be complacent, as there is increasing evidence of osteoporosis in men, possibly because we are all much less generally active and don't exercise enough.

Should I see my Doctor?

If you are worried, yes, you should. If he or she thinks that you may be at risk, it is possible to arrange for special scans and blood tests to diagnose the extent of the problem if there is one. The earlier that you are aware of the problem, the sooner you can get help and start helping yourself.

Your doctor will be able to tell you about HRT and non-hormonal treatments, and advise which is most suitable for you.

Does Osteopathic treatment help my Osteoporosis?

Your Osteopath may be able to offer you some relief from your symptoms. For many patients massage and gentle movements of the affected joints will help to restore a more healthy blood supply and greater freedom of movement.

This does not in itself suggest a cure, but if you are more mobile and less uncomfortable, you will be able to do more exercise and this is a crucial part of self-help.

In addition, your Osteopath can make suggestions regarding diet and which exercises are safe for you to do, and will also point you in the right direction for medical help.

How can I help myself?

Prevention

Try to adopt as healthy a life-style as you can.

The better your level of general fitness the better your body is able to avoid, or cope with, these problems. Here are some specific things that will help to reduce the chance of developing osteoporosis:

If levels of calcium in the blood drop below normal, other systems will draw calcium from the bones to serve functions such as muscle contraction and hormone production. Some dieticians recommend that you take calcium supplements of between 1,000 and 1,500mg per day but most are agreed that it is best obtained from food e.g. dairy products or even better, from dark green vegetables such as broccoli.

Vitamin D helps you absorb the calcium. It is found in many dairy products and in oily fish is also manufactured within the body when your skin is exposed to modest amounts of sunlight.

What If I know that I already have osteoporosis?

The advice above is valid even if osteoporosis has been diagnosed; your circumstances may be different. The amount of exercise that you can manage will depend on how advanced your condition is, other medical conditions and your age. It is sad to say that many of those who suffer from osteoporosis also show signs of osteo-arthritis, and this needs to be taken into account when planning treatment.

National Osteoporosis Society

If you would like to read more about osteoporosis, contact the National Osteoporosis Society which has some excellent leaflets. Their address is as follows:

N.O.S.

PO Box 10 Radstock

Bath BA3 3YB

Helpline: 01761 472721