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Do You Know the Top 3 Signs of Osteoporosis?

Do you work with osteoporosis patients? This may be a trick question because you probably do whether you know it or not- even if you are a pediatric therapist! Osteoporosis is defined by the World Health Organization1 as a systematic skeletal disease characterized by:

  • Low bone mass
  • Micro-architectural deterioration of bone tissue
  • Consequent increase in bone fragility and susceptibility to a fracture

Osteoporosis occurs in men, women and even children. It is sometimes called the “silent disease” because often people don’t know they have it until they break a bone. And even then, compression fractures are painful only 20-30% of the time. Old fractures are often found on x-rays when a person is imaged for illnesses such as pneumonia. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation2, about one in two women and one in four men over the age of 50 will suffer a fracture due to bone fragility. At this point in time, it is estimated 80% of patients entering Emergency Departments with a fragility fracture (a fall from a standing height) are never followed up for care.

As therapists, we see patients for a variety of diagnoses with co-morbidities but osteoporosis may not be listed. This could be because they have never been identified. We are in a prime position to screen for signs associated with the disorder. Below are the top 3 signs to look for:

  • History of fracture from minimal trauma (fall from a standing height, sneeze, lifting groceries, etc.) The typical fracture areas are wrist, hip, and spine although fragility fractures can happen anywhere in the body.
  • Hyper-kyphosis. Note, I said hyper-kyphosis, not kyphosis. We are meant to have a thoracic kyphosis but an excessive curve, particularly when it hinges around T8 area may indicate a collapse of the anterior portion of the vertebral bodies. This is the pie shaped wedging seen on x-rays and further increases the stress on the anterior aspect of the spine. Observe your patients’ sagittal posture for proper alignment.
  • Loss of height. Ask your patient their tallest height remembered; then measure them. A loss of 4 cm (1.5 inches) or more may indicate fractures in the spine.

Remember pain may or may not accompany a compression fracture. Patients may complain of a “catch” or muscle spasm or nothing at all. These quick and simple screens can alert the healthcare provider and may help prevent further disintegration of the bones. Research is showing that not only weight bearing exercises but a site specific back and hip strengthening program decreases the risk of fracture.3


1. World Health Organization. www.who.int
2. National Osteoporosis Foundation. www.nof.org
3. Current Osteoporosis Reports. Sept, 2010. The Role of Exercise in the Treatment of Osteoporosis. Sinaki M, Pfeifer M, Preisinger E, Itoi E, Rissoli R, Boonen S, Geusens P, Minne HW.

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