Osteoporosis & Orthopaedics

February 2021

Having strong bones and knowing how to keep them strong is your best defense in preventing and fighting osteoporosis. As a physician assistant at Suburban Orthopaedics, I get many questions about this from our patients and am happy to share those questions and answers with you here.

What is osteoporosis and who gets it?

Osteoporosis is a very common disease characterized by low bone density, which leaves an individual at risk for fractures. The greatest risk factors for developing osteoporosis include advancing age (specifically postmenopausal women), cigarette smoking, low body weight, chronic steroid use, family history of osteoporosis, and a multitude of medical conditions.

What does this mean for me as an orthopaedic patient?

While we do not directly treat osteoporosis at Suburban Orthopaedics, it certainly affects our patient care on a regular basis. Many of the fractures we see are osteoporotic fractures, which happen because a patient’s bones are too weak. These fractures usually occur without much trauma—perhaps just a short fall, for example. Some of the most common osteoporotic fractures we see are hip fractures and vertebral compression fractures (when a bone of the spine collapses). These fractures often require a surgical procedure. Osteoporosis also affects how successful any orthopaedic surgery will be. Since many of our surgeries involve hardware such as screws, plates, anchors, we must have good solid bone to hold that hardware. Just as a house is more secure when built on stone than on sand, a surgery utilizing good, hard bone is more secure than a surgery with soft bone.

How do I know if I have osteoporosis?

Sometimes, we do not know that a patient has osteoporosis until the patient comes in with an osteoporotic fracture. Thankfully, many patients get a special test called a DEXA scan to help determine their bone density. The score received on a patient’s DEXA scan determines if a patient has osteoporosis. Not everyone needs DEXA scans. Men generally do not get DEXA scans unless they have significant risk factors. All women over 65 years old should get screening DEXA scans every 5 years. Women younger than 65 years old with significant risk factors may be advised to get DEXA scans before the age of 65. Your primary care provider determines whether you need a DEXA scan. For patients undergoing surgeries in which it is particularly important to have good bone density, Suburban Orthopaedics may order a DEXA scan prior to surgery.

How can I prevent osteoporosis?

Thankfully, you hold a lot of power in preventing osteoporosis! Diet, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle choices can help you avoid osteoporosis and its painful fractures. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D can help to strengthen bone. Weight-bearing and high-impact exercise (walking, jogging, weight-lifting, squats, etc.) can improve bone density, and exercises like Tai Chi can improve balance to avoid accidents that cause osteoporotic fractures. Lastly, avoiding or quitting cigarette smoking and excess alcohol intake can significantly reduce your likelihood of developing osteoporosis.

Where can I get more information?

The National Osteoporosis foundation has many great resources to help you learn more about osteoporosis. Check out their website at nof.org/patients.