Osteoporosis is a common disease that causes the thinning and weakening of the bones. They can become so brittle that a fall, or even bending over or coughing, can cause a fracture. Osteoporotic fractures usually occur in the hips, wrist, or spine. Osteoporosis affects 55% of Americans aged 50 or older. One half of women and a quarter of men will fracture a bone. Thin bones are the cause of 1.5 million fractures per year in the US. Hip fractures alone result in 300,000 hospitalizations. It is important to diagnose osteoporosis early so that steps can be taken to lessen the risk of fracture.
Bone is a living material that is constantly being broken down and replaced. Osteoporosis is caused when the creation of new bone cannot keep up with the removal of old bone. It can affect people at any age; however, women are at a higher risk of developing the disease than men.
There are several risk factors that increase the chances of developing osteoporosis including, hormone levels, advanced age, low vitamin D levels, and poor calcium intake. Osteoporosis is a “silent” disease and may have no outward symptoms until a fracture occurs. A loss of height or an appearance of a humpback may be noticeable in people middle-aged or older.
Osteoporosis can result in complications with bone fractures in the hips and spine being the most serious. Hip fractures are often caused by a fall and can result in disability and even increased risk of death within the first year after injury. Compression fractures in the spine can happen even without a fall. The vertebrae may become so weak and brittle that they may crumple.
Physical therapy can improve overall bone health. A physical therapy program can build bone density or prevent further bone loss with weight-bearing and resistive exercises. Therapy can help improve posture, work on balance to decrease fall risks, adjust the environment to protect bone health, and increase strength and mobility.
With any health issue, an overall healthy lifestyle is important for staying well. There are steps to take to improve bone health at any age. In fact, there may now be a new treatment for osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures. Whole body vibration is a new promising anti-osteoporotic treatment in women after menopause. The vibration is transmitted from a platform through the body of the patient. Mechanical signals through vibration have been shown to stimulate new bone formation and increase bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. Whole body vibration could improve balance and strength in patients who are at risk for falls or osteoporotic fractures.
The Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research did a review of several previous journal articles which found that low-magnitude whole body vibration can provide a significant improvement in reducing bone loss in the lumbar spine in postmenopausal women. Whole body vibration at any magnitude can be used as an intervention to prevent falls. Another possible mechanism of vibration includes changes in blood flow. Improvement in blood supply enhances balance function and muscle strength.
The vibrations cause your muscles to contract repeatedly. These muscle contractions are the same kind of contractions your muscles experience during exercise. The vibration plate also exerts natural loading forces on bones to further help strengthen them and increase their density. The intensity of an exercise program can be modified for those who are older and cannot move as well, or for those who are injured.
Make an appointment to see your physician if you have noticed changes in your posture or have suffered from a fracture more easily than expected. It is important to get screened right away if you went through early menopause or took corticosteroids for several months at a time. Having a family history of osteoporosis, especially if someone suffered from a hip fracture, is another reason to see your doctor sooner than later. Ask about the possibility of physical therapy and the vibration plate.