Osteoporosis is a growing problem in our maturing population. It is the most common bone disease in humans. It is commonly confused with osteoarthritis because it starts with the greek prefix “osteo” which means “bone”. Osteo-arthritis is the wear and tear arthritis that loudly announces itself with achy sore joints. Osteo-porosis is the word used to describe thin or porous bones. Osteoporosis is known as a “silent disease” because it has no warning symptoms. The underlying problem in osteoporosis is the decrease in the amount of calcium structure in the bone. When looked at through a microscope, bone looks a lot like a sponge with many tiny bridges forming the stuff of bone. Bones with osteoporosis have fewer bridges and thinner bridges. As a result, thin bones are at risk to fail when overstressed. Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures annually, including 300,000 hip fractures, and approximately 700,000 vertebral fractures, 250,000 wrist fractures, and more than 300,000 fractures at other sites. What starts as a “silent disease” can lead to major life altering fractures of the hip, spine and wrist. After a hip fracture only half of patients return to the same level of performance. Fractures are certainly not limited to a major joint like your hip. Fractures are even more common in the bones of your back – the vertebrae. Osteoporotic fractures of the spine can lead to height loss, round back deformity, chronic pain and death.
Fractures of the wrist come from attempts at breaking the fall using your hands. Wrist fractures can lead to deformity and arthritis that make the routine daily activities of the hands painful and difficult.
It is clear that as we all become “less young” the amount of calcium in our bodies goes down. As our bones’ density decreases the risk of fracture climbs exponentially. This is much more of problem for women. As women go through menopause, their bones can lose as much as 3% of their calcium per year. Overly thin women have less bone to lose and are at even higher risk.