Osteoporosis and osteopenia are two common conditions that can lead to weakened bones. The difference between the two conditions comes down to a person’s bone mineral density (BMD), which indicates the levels of calcium and other minerals that are important for bone health and strength.
Bone density naturally begins decreasing after age 30, and the bones may gradually become more porous, weaker, and fragile. Those who have slightly lower than normal bone mineral density may be diagnosed with osteopenia, which may later progress to the more serious condition of osteoporosis. However, not everyone who has osteopenia will go on to have osteoporosis.
Many people with either osteopenia or osteoporosis may have no signs or symptoms of their condition until they experience a bone fracture, and often the bone will break much more easily than expected. Other possible signs and symptoms of osteopenia or osteoporosis may include:
- Pain in the bones and muscles, especially the lower back
- A collapsed vertebra, which can cause severe pain
- A decrease in height over time
- Changes in posture, such as stooping, or kyphosis (also called dowager’s hump), a rounding of the upper back
- Shortness of breath (from compressed bones and discs in the spine that affect lung capacity)
Causes and Risk Factors for Osteopenia
Osteopenia most frequently develops in:
- Men and women aged 50 and older
- Postmenopausal women
- Those who have poor nutrition (especially a diet with insufficient vitamin D or calcium)
- Those taking certain medications (for example, medication for hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, cancer, or heartburn)
- Those who have had gastrointestinal surgery
- Those with lifestyle risk factors, such as smoking, consuming alcohol, and not exercising
Causes and Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Although osteopenia may later progress to osteoporosis, low hormone levels, particularly estrogen in women and testosterone in men, are the main cause of osteoporosis.
Like osteopenia, osteoporosis is more common in men and women aged 50 and older and postmenopausal women. Postmenopausal women are frequently diagnosed with osteoporosis because menopause is accompanied by a sharp drop in estrogen levels.
Other risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- Race, with Caucasian (white) women of European descent and Asian women at greater risk
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Medications, such as synthetic glucocorticoids (such as prednisone), proton pump inhibitors for treating acid reflux, certain cancer treatment drugs, thyroid hormone replacement, and diuretics
- A diet with insufficient vitamin D or calcium
- Low body weight and low muscle mass
- Lifestyle choices, such as smoking, consuming alcohol, and not exercising
- Medical conditions, including kidney or liver disease, lupus, cancer, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatoid arthritis
Why Choose Cooper for Osteopenia and Osteoporosis Therapy?
The physical therapy experts at the Cooper Bone and Joint Institute are specially trained to evaluate your condition and work with you, your primary care doctor, and other specialists as needed to develop and implement an effective therapy plan tailored to meet your unique needs. Weight-bearing exercise and strength training are among the most effective approaches to help you rebuild bone strength and reduce your chance of a fracture as a result of osteopenia or osteoporosis.
As part of your therapy plan, your physical therapist will help you with exercises and lifestyle strategies aimed at improving your bone strength and health. Physical therapy for osteopenia or osteoporosis may include:
- Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, elliptical training, low-impact stair climbing, and cycling
- Resistance exercises, such as lifting light weights and using elastic exercise bands
- Posture and balance exercises
- Stretches, especially for the back, hips, and legs
- Strategies to prevent falls
- Guidance on lifestyle changes that can help improve your bone health
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