It’s easy to think of bones as solid structures, but a closer look through a microscope shows that they’re actually quite porous. Bones are living tissues, constantly growing and renewing. But as you age, those tiny holes may get bigger, which weakens their structure. This is called osteoporosis, and while it can happen to anyone, it affects one in every four women, but only one in every 20 men.
People with osteoporosis are at high risk for fractures, even from minor bumps and light impact. Although falls are the main cause of fractures, when your bones are brittle, even a strong cough can break a bone.
One of the common places for osteoporosis-related fractures is your spine. As your vertebral bones lose density, the daily impact and stress they normally tolerate becomes too much, and they begin to collapse. This not only causes back pain and stiffness, it also makes you shrink in height and stoop when you stand or walk.
Fortunately, Dr. Patrick McNulty, our double-board certified orthopedic surgeon at McNulty Spine in Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada, has more than three decades of experience diagnosing and treating complex spinal disorders, and he can help you prevent osteoporosis or manage the symptoms and strengthen your bones if you already have it.
Children have a unique window of opportunity to maximize their lifetime bone strength. By the time they reach age 20, the major bone-building work is done. While bone renewal continues for life, childhood sets the stage for your adult bones.
Make sure children get plenty of calcium (2-3 servings of low-fat dairy per day), vitamin D (vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption), and exercise (weight-bearing exercise that puts pressure on the bones) to build the strongest bones possible.
During your 20s, your bones still develop, just a bit more slowly than they did when you were a child and teen. At age 30 and beyond, you maintain a fairly steady level of bone mass, where old bone cells die and new ones take their place. But as soon as you hit menopause and your estrogen drops, your bone density takes a nosedive as well. Suddenly, you can’t replace the dying bone cells fast enough, and you end up with osteoporosis.
It’s never too late to adjust your diet and lifestyle. You may need to take calcium and vitamin D supplements if you’re not getting enough in the food you eat. It’s also important to exercise to stimulate bone tissue renewal.
Although osteoporosis is more common among thin, small-boned women, that doesn’t necessarily mean that carrying some extra weight reduces your risk. In fact, just the opposite may be true.
It was once believed that obesity and bone density were unrelated, but recent studies show a direct connection between the two. It turns out that extra fat, especially visceral fat that hangs around your organs and belly, can affect bone remodelling. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for your overall health as well as your bones.
As if being a woman wasn’t enough of a risk factor, certain health conditions can also contribute to bone loss, including:
If you’re taking any of the following medications, you may also be at risk for accelerated bone loss:
This is just a partial list. Dr. McNulty can review any medications you’re taking and let you know if any of them may be harming your bones.
Unfortunately, there are no warning signs to let you know you’re losing bone density. Most women don’t realize it until they suffer a fracture. We recommend a bone scan for women 65 and older, although we may recommend one at an earlier age if you have a family history of osteoporosis or are taking drugs that put you in a high risk category.
Dr. McNulty often enters your osteoporosis story once you fractured a vertebra or two. If this occurs, rest assured you’re in the best hands. Once he diagnoses your condition, he recommends the safest, most efficient treatment and has the skill and experience to help you live a full and active life despite your weakening bones.
From physical therapy and bone-building medications to nerve blocks and spinal injections to minimally invasive surgical procedures, Dr. McNulty can dramatically reduce your pain and increase your quality of life. To learn more about preventing and treating bone loss, contact us at either of our locations in Henderson or Las Vegas, Nevada, or request an appointment online today.