Osteoporosis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Osteoporosis involves loss of bone tissue and density, which causes bones to become brittle and weak. Bones are living tissues that constantly break down and replace themselves, but people with osteoporosis have a higher rate of bone loss than bone growth. As a result, osteoporosis increases the risk of fracture.

An illustration of porous bone caused by osteoporosis
An illustration of porous bone caused by osteoporosis
Fractures (broken bones) due to osteoporosis occur most often in the wrist, hip or spine, often as the result of a fall. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the disease is a contributing factor in two million broken bones each year, and as many as 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone density. However, bone loss occurs progressively and without symptoms, so many times people don’t realize they have this “silent disease” until they break a bone. Because education is an important part of prevention and disease management, I’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions about osteoporosis below.

Side note: People often confuse osteoporosis with osteoarthritis, but the two are not the same. To learn more about the causes, symptoms and treatment options for osteoarthritis, visit my osteoarthritis blog post here.

What Causes Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis does not have a specific known cause, but certain risk factors can increase the chances of developing this condition:

  • Aging: Everyone loses bone as they get older, so the risk increases with age. Menopause is a factor as well.
  • Gender: Women have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than men.
  • Heredity: People who have family members with osteoporosis are more likely to develop it as well.
  • Body type: People with smaller frames may have less bone mass to draw from.
  • Ethnicity: Caucasian or Asian ethnic groups have shown a greater risk.
  • Nutrition and lifestyle: Low calcium intake, excessive alcohol use and lack of physical activity can be contributors to developing osteoporosis. Smoking has also been shown to weaken bones.
  • Certain medications: Prolonged use of some medications such as steroids can increase your risk.

What are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?

There usually are no symptoms of this disease in its early stages. Often the first sign is a fracture. Other possible symptoms once the bones have been weakened include:

  • Stooped posture and difficulty walking
  • Loss of height
  • Severe back pain
  • Development of a curved upper back (dowager’s hump)
  • Bones that break easily

How is Osteoporosis Treated and Managed?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for osteoporosis. Medications may help slow the breakdown of bone or have the potential to rebuild bone. Other recommendations for managing osteoporosis include:

  • Physical activity: Weight-bearing exercises can strengthen bones and muscles, reducing the chance of a fracture. Getting regularly active and fit will help lessen the likelihood that you may fall and possibly sustain a broken bone.
  • Diet: Make smart food choices, with healthy amounts of protein, and get the recommended calcium and vitamin D.
  • Lifestyle changes: Don’t smoke, and drink alcohol only in moderation.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of osteoporosis or other bone conditions and would like to consult with us, please call 913-319-7600. New patients and established patients with new conditions can make appointments anytime using our online scheduling tool.

About the Author

Portrait of Dr. Scott Wingerter, board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Dickson-Diveley OrthopaedicsScott A. Wingerter, M.D., Ph.D. is a board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in joint preservation and replacement surgery. His focus is on total joint replacement of the hip and knee, hip resurfacing, partial knee replacement, minimally invasive surgery, and hip arthroscopy.

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The medical information contained in the Dickson-Diveley Orthopaedics website is provided to increase your knowledge and understanding of orthopedic conditions. This information should not be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific medical or surgical treatment plan. As each patient may have specific symptoms or associated problems, the treatment regimen for a specific patient may not be the proper treatment for another.

Gaining knowledge and understanding of a particular problem or condition is the first step in any medical treatment plan. We believe the information presented on our website will be helpful for those individuals experiencing hand and wrist diseases, injuries, or other related problems. However, this information is not intended to replace the advice of your family physician. You are encouraged to consult with your physician to discuss any course of treatment presented or suggested.