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Back Behind the Wheel: Osteoporosis: The Silent Thief

Have you ever wondered why some elderly people have a "hunch" or "hump" back? This is usually caused by multiple compression fractures in their spine.


Have you ever wondered why some elderly people have a “hunch” or “hump” back? This is usually caused by multiple compression fractures in their spine.

With these types of fractures, the vertebrae in your spine become a wedge shape and the end result is an increase kyphosis (curve) in the thoracic spine. Osteoporosis is a disease that decreases the density of bone, which makes the bone more brittle and susceptible to fractures. Individuals who have the disease may have this exaggerated curve, giving an appearance of a “hump” or “hunch” back.

Osteoporosis is a common condition that affects millions of people around the world. The word osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones.’ Bones are composed of collagen (protein), calcium and minerals. It has a hard smooth outer shell with a less dense inner core which resembles an intricate labyrinth of honeycombs (take a look at chicken bones that have been cut in half, you will get the idea). Someone who has osteoporosis has structural deterioration of bone tissue in the inner core of the bone. This results in a decrease in bone mass, which affects the integrity/strength of the bone. There is a decrease in bone density and the bones become “brittle” which makes them more susceptible to break/fracture.

There are many risk factors that predispose a person to osteoporosis. Major risk factors include, any type of fracture that results from minimal trauma after the age of 40, a family history of osteoporosis, long term (greater than 3 months) use of glucocorticoid therapy (for arthritis) such as prednisone, if you have celiac or Crohn’s disease, early menopause (before 45) and primary hyperparathyroidism. Minor risk factors include rheumatoid arthritis, prolong use of heparin, a low calcium intake, smoking and an excess intake of caffeine or alcohol.

Since bone loss can occur without any symptoms, many Canadians have osteoporosis and are not aware of it. Since there is a gradual loss of bone, without any symptoms osteoporosis has been known as the “silent thief.” If you have many of the major or minor risk factors consult you health professional. The most accurate method to measure bone density is by doing a Bone Mineral Density test. The most common bone density test in use today is called a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry. Anyone over the age of 65 should have a BMD test done.

There are 1.4 million Canadians who suffer from osteoporosis. One in 4 women and 1 in 8 men over the age of 50 has osteoporosis. Although, the disease is more common in older individuals it can occur at any age.

Osteoporosis has also been a condition that has traditionally been associated with women. Although 80 per cent of those who are diagnosed with osteoporosis are female, there is a small percentage (20 per cent) of males who will also get the disease.

Fractures are the most significant complication associated with osteoporosis. The most common area for fractures is in the spine, wrist and hip.

Although most fractures will not have any major complications (except pain), fracturing of the hip can lead to permanent disability and mortality.

What can you do to prevent osteoporosis? Your genes will determine the potential and strength of your bones. However, there are some lifestyle factors that you can incorporate, in order to “save” or “increase” in your “bone bank” to ensure that you have enough later on in life. By the age of 20, the average person has acquired 98 per cent of his/her skeletal mass. Building strong bones early on in life can be the best defense against developing osteoporosis. How do we do this? By doing weight bearing exercise (running, weight training), having healthy lifestyle (no smoking or excessive drinking) and a balanced diet, which is rich in calcium and vitamin D.

Osteoporosis is a disease that is common and affects millions of Canadians annually. It affects women more then men, but does affect both sexes.

How does this affect you?

You may not be at risk, but someone you know may be. Let them know what they can do to build strong bones, and educate them about the disease. Remember, if you are over 65 you should have a bone density test. Until next month drive safely and take care.

– Dr. Jerry Singh, B. Kin., D.C., runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 888-252-7327, or email TCC@transcanadachiropractic.com


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