Bones are an important part of our bodies that we don’t think about too much. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become thin and brittle. Dr Joe Kosterich talks about the causes, signs, diagnosis, prevention, management and concerns of osteoporosis.

One of the really important parts of our body that we don’t think about too much is our bones.

Our bones obviously support our skeletal system and without them we’d fall into a heap on the ground. Osteoporosis is a condition that occurs often as people get older, when our bones become what we call thinner and a little bit more brittle.

That’s what we’re going to be talking about in this video today.

Now, up until a hundred years ago, osteoporosis was not much of an issue because people really didn’t live much past the age of 40 or 50. Osteoporosis does come about generally after the menopause in women and beyond the age of 50 or 60 in men, as the turnover slows down a little bit and one loses some of the bone strength.

Often it is a very symptom-less condition, so people may not know that they have it. It usually doesn’t cause pain, although some people will report getting some aching in the bones but most people don’t know that they have it.

So, how does one find out if one does have osteoporosis?

Two ways: one can do an x-ray, they can give you a little bit of a guide; and the other way that is often done is bone density screenings. We’re testing for bone density – that is looking at “the thickness” or “brittleness” of the bones.

As one does get older there are a number of changes in the body, so one can’t expect at the age of 80 to have exactly the same bone mass and strength as you have at 18, so there is some normal ageing effect. Osteoporosis is when you get loss of bone strength beyond what one would expect just for age alone.

Now, the main issue with osteoporosis is that if one falls over there is an increased risk of fall, and particularly for those in an older age group the risks of fall can be quite serious because for a lot of older people, if they fall and break their hip, that can lead to a series of other problems down the track. So preventing falls is very important, and keeping your bones strong is part of that.

What are some of the simple things we can do to try to prevent osteoporosis?

Simple things start early: making sure you’re getting some calcium and vitamin D is very important because they are the building blocks for bones, and there are different food groups that they come in including dairy products, obviously green vegetables, and with vitamin D in things like fish oils as well. Getting just a little bit of sunlight to ensure that you do get some vitamin D converted to its active form, that can be helpful too. Doing some weight bearing exercise is really important and a little bit of resistance exercise as well. Why is that important? If you’re working the muscles and the bones, this stimulates bone growth and production, so that’s a really important thing to do. And these are things that should start really early in life, really as a child, and continue right through.

Assuming that we’ve reached the point where we may have osteoporosis, what are the sorts of things to do?

In some respects, it is still more of the same: making sure you’re getting your calcium and vitamin D is important, doing some regular exercise is really important, and that’s regardless of age. Depending upon age and your circumstances the types of exercise you’re going to be able to do are going to be a little bit different. If you’re 70 you may not want to try to do 100 push-ups, if you’re 20 that might be something you can consider, and even then you want to make sure you build up to it.

Now, in some circumstances there’s going to be need for medication, and that’s something that will come about after seeing your doctor.

So, to sum up, with osteoporosis: to a degree, we are going to lose some bone mass as we get older, like the skin changes and other parts of the body change, that’s not an issue; when there is thinning of the bone – and this can be determined, as we said before, on bone density screenings – then that may constitute osteoporosis. The things to do: make sure you’re eating right, that you are working and moving your bones, and for some people medication may be helpful as well.

Osteoporosis doesn’t have to be a major trauma for people. Looking after some simple things and treatment when necessary, will keep you on your feet.

More information on osteoporosis and bone health