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Fall Prevention and Osteoporosis

Facts on Fall Prevention and Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis (or porous bone) is a disease in which bones become less dense, resulting in weak bones that are more likely to break. Without prevention or treatment, osteoporosis can progress without pain or symptoms until a bone breaks (fractures). Fractures associated with osteoporosis can take a long time to heal and can cause permanent disability.

Osteoporosis is not just an "old woman's disease." Although it is more common in white or Asian women older than 50 years of age, osteoporosis can occur in almost any person at any age. In fact, many American men have osteoporosis. In women, bone loss can begin as early as 25 years of age. Anyone with osteoporosis, male or female, young or old, is at risk for broken bones from falls. However, most falls do occur among elderly women.

Because osteoporosis has no symptoms, people may not be aware that they have decreased bone density (osteopenia) or osteoporosis. Falls are especially dangerous for people who do not know they have weak or less solid bones. If a bone does break from a fall, a person's activities may be limited while the bone is healing. Surgery or a heavy cast may be necessary, and physical therapy may be required to resume normal activities.

Three factors are related to whether or not a bone breaks from a fall: the fall itself, the force and direction of the fall, and how fragile the bones are. Prevention of falls is very important for people with osteoporosis because of their fragile bones. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

  • of all broken hips, a majority are associated with osteoporosis;
  • falling is the cause of 95 percent of hip fractures in the U.S.;
  • a hip fracture makes an elderly person more likely to die in the first year after this injury than other elderly people;
  • of elderly people living without assistance before a hip fracture, a significant percentage will need care in long-term care institutions (nursing home, assisted living) a year after their fracture;
  • most falls happen to women in their own homes in the afternoon.
Last Reviewed 12/28/2017

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Osteoporosis Symptoms

Early in the course of the disease, osteoporosis may cause no symptoms. Later, it may cause height loss or dull pain in the bones or muscles, particularly low back pain or neck pain.

Later in the course of the disease, sharp pains may come on suddenly. The pain may not radiate (spread to other areas); it may be made worse by activity that puts weight on the area, may be accompanied by tenderness, and generally begins to subside in one week. Pain may linger more than three months.

People with osteoporosis may not even recall a fall or other trauma that might cause a broken bone, such as in the spine or foot. Spinal compression fractures may result in loss of height with a stooped posture (called a dowager's hump).

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Osteoporosis »

Osteoporosis is a systemic skeletal disorder characterized by decreased bone mass and deterioration of bony microarchitecture.

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