Osteoporosis is a condition of reduced bone strength that causes bones to be more likely to break (1). It is a progressive disease in which the density and quality of bone decreases over time making it more fragile. Current trends show that more and more people are affected by osteoporosis each year (1). Among Canadian men and women, an estimated 1 in 4 women have osteoporosis compared to 1 in 8 men (1).
Why is osteoporosis so concerning?
The major threat to healthy aging and independent mobility for those with osteoporosis is the risk of sustaining a fragility fracture. A fragility fracture is a broken bone that results from minimal trauma or stress – stress which typically would not cause a bone to break (1). An example would be breaking a bone in the wrist or hip after falling from standing height (1). After an initial fragility fracture, you become more than two times as likely to sustain another fracture in the future (1). The most common bones to be injured are those of the wrist, upper arm, ribs, spine, pelvis, and hip (1).
Who is at risk for osteoporosis?
Canadian guidelines recommend that all postmenopausal women and men over the age of 50 years be screened for their risk of osteoporosis (1). A diagnosis is made following an X-ray that measures bone mineral density. This test is recommended for those who have at least 1 major or 2 minor risk factors (1).
Figure 1: Some key major and minor risk factors for osteoporosis (1)
|Major Risk Factors
||Minor Risk Factors
- Age over 65 years
- Family history of osteoporosis fracture
- Early menopause (before age 45)
- Glucocorticoid therapy for more than 3 months
- Diet low in calcium
- Body weight less than 57 kg
- Rheumatoid arthritis
How can I check if I am at risk for osteoporosis?
A convenient online tool for estimating the risk of osteoporosis fracture exists called the FRAX® Fracture Risk Assessment Tool. Click on this link to get an estimate of your personal risk. If you are concerned about your risk for osteoporosis, it is best to consult your family doctor.
How is osteoporosis treated?
Apart from medical management with medication and supplementation, exercise is a key component of treatment. Exercise has been shown to slow the loss of bone mineral density and reduce the risk of falling (1). This means that exercise can be beneficial for both preventing osteoporosis as well as managing symptoms for those already diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Can physiotherapy and exercise help if…
…I’m concerned about developing osteoporosis in the future?
For anyone at an increased risk of osteoporosis or those with a family history of osteoporosis, taking part in weight-bearing physical activity and activity that involves some impact is best for preventing bone loss. Starting this type of exercise at a younger age may make you less likely to suffer from osteoporosis in older age.
…I’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis?
For those with osteoporosis, exercise is important to help minimize bone density loss. It is also critical for reducing the risk of falling and therefore, a broken bone. Risk of falling is higher for people with poor strength, balance, posture, and with poor postural stability. All of these factors can be addressed and improved with a proper exercise program.
…I’ve already had a fragility fracture and want to avoid having another one in the future?
A safe exercise program is also beneficial for those who have already suffered a broken bone associated with osteoporosis. Less than 20% of women (or 1 in 5) and 10% of men (or 1 in 10) who have had a fracture are given the appropriate treatment to prevent a future fracture (2). It is important to restore safe movement patterns during recovery from a fracture as well as to reduce the risk of sustaining another fracture.
Each person is unique and should have an exercise program that is tailored to their specific needs. A physiotherapist can assess, treat, and teach you how to reduce your risk of osteoporosis, manage your symptoms, and improve your general health and physical functioning.
- Brown JP, Josse RG. 2002 clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of osteoporosis in Canada. CMAJ. 2002. 167(10); S1-34.
- Papaioannou A, Morin S, Cheung AM, Atkinson S, Brown JP, Feldman S, et al. 2010 clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of osteoporosis in Canada: summary. CMAJ. 2010. 182(17): 1-10.