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Living with osteoporosis

Although your genes determine your potential height and the strength of your skeleton, lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can influence how healthy your bones are.

Broken bones usually take six to eight weeks to recover. Having osteoporosis does not affect how long this takes. Recovery depends on the type of fracture you have. Some fractures heal easily, but others may require more intervention.

Osteoporosis can cause a loss of height as a result of fractures in the spinal column. This means the spine is no longer able to support your body's weight and it causes a hunched posture. This can be painful when it occurs, and may also lead to long-term pain (chronic pain). Your doctor may be able to help with this.

During the healing process, you may need the help of a physiotherapist or occupational therapist to make as full a recovery as possible.

You should be able to continue to work when you have osteoporosis.

There is no cure for osteoporosis, but medicines and lifestyle changes can help:

  • Make lifestyle changes as early as possible to avoid osteoporosis developing.
  • Tai chi (a form of martial art) exercises have been shown to prevent falls.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake.
  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of calcium-containing foods, such as dairy products.
  • Try to do 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, every day.
  • Have moderate exposure to sunlight (but avoid sunburn); sunlight encourages your body’s natural production of vitamin D.
  • Reduce your risk of falling:
  • ask for a review of your medicines; some can cause dizziness or drowsiness and make falls more likely.
  • have your eyesight checked; you need good sight to avoid tripping over or bumping into objects.
  • avoid high heels and wear non-slip soles.
  • a walking stick or frame can help your balance if you are unsteady when walking.
  • Hip protectors will decrease the risk of fractures after falling.
  • An occupational therapist can assess for any household risks.
  • If you live alone, and are at risk of falling, consider having an alert system (preferably one that can be worn around your neck or wrist) that can be activated if you fall and cannot move.
  • Eliminate home hazards – always keep your home well lit and remove all loose wires and cords that you may trip over. Make sure treads, rugs and carpets are secure. Keep rubber mats by the sink and in the bath to prevent slipping and always clean up spills immediately. Install grab rails in the bathroom and toilet to help you stand up without falling. Your doctor may be able to provide support and advice about safety in the home.
  • Ask for help – if you know you have arthritis, avoid standing on chairs to reach high cupboards or change a light bulb. Also, try to avoid doing chores that you know will cause more pain. Write a list of the jobs that need to be done around the house and save it for the next time your friends or family visit.

Getting support

If you have any questions, your doctor may be able to reassure you. You may also find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor or psychologist, or to someone at a specialist helpline. Your doctor's surgery will have information on these.

Some people find it helpful to talk to others who have osteoporosis, either at a local support group or in an internet chat room.

You will find more details of support groups at www.mydr.com.au.

Recovering from a broken bone

Broken bones usually take six to eight weeks to recover. Having osteoporosis does not affect how long this takes. Recovery depends on the type of fracture you have. Some fractures heal easily, but others may require more intervention.

If you have a complicated wrist fracture or hip fracture, you may need an operation to make sure that the bone is set properly. Hip replacements are often needed after hip fractures and some people may lose mobility as a result of weakened bones.

Osteoporosis can cause a loss of height as a result of fractures in the spinal column. This means the spine is no longer able to support your body's weight and it causes a hunched posture. This can be painful when it occurs, but it may also lead to long-term pain (chronic pain). Your doctor may be able to help with this.

During the healing process, you may need the help of a physiotherapist or occupational therapist so you can make as full a recovery as possible.

Coping with pain

The experience of pain is unique to every individual, so what works for you may differ from what works for someone else. There are a number of different ways of managing pain, including:

  • drug treatment 
  • heat treatment, such as warm baths or hot packs 
  • cold treatment, such as cold packs or a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) electrical device, which is thought to reduce pain by stimulating the nerves 
  • relaxation techniques, such as simple methods of relaxation, massage or hypnosis.

To manage your pain, it is possible to use more than one of these approaches at the same time (for example, using a drug treatment, heat pack and relaxation techniques).

Sources: NHS Choices, UK (Living with osteoporosis), myDr (Osteoporosis self-care)

Last reviewed: June 2015

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