Osteoporosis and osteopenia are conditions of reduced bone density, usually affecting post-menopausal women and elderly men. This is measured by a DEXA scan, which is a specialised low energy x-ray. A calculation determines whether the bone density is healthy, low (osteopenic), or very low (osteoporotic).
Bones are not solid, and inside they look a bit like honeycomb. If bone density is decreased, then the holes in the honeycomb get bigger, so the bone gets more fragile. Osteoporosis and osteopenia make a patient more susceptible to fractures, even following more minor falls. Hip and vertebra fractures are common among this group, and are often the symptom that first leads to a diagnosis.
During the menopause, oestrogen levels drop, speeding up reabsorption. Bone cell turnover is higher as a result, meaning there’s a lot of new bone that hasn’t had the time to fully mineralise; increasing risk of fracture.
Weight bearing exercise is important for healthy bone density, and can even improve density after a diagnosis of osteoporosis has been made; see the video below. A good intake of calcium and vitamin D are also key to maintaining or improving bone density- both are required for the body to lay down new bone tissue. Medications are also available to slow down the reabsorption of bone.
Osteoporosis is not a condition that osteopathy can cure. Weight bearing and proprioceptive exercises can be prescribed, but treatment itself will not improve bone density. Proprioceptive exercises are those that aid balance, essentially reducing the likelihood of suffering a fall.
Bones are naturally at their densest in your 20s, so it’s never too early to strengthen your skeleton and pave the way for stronger bones in later life.