20 April 2019
Endurance and resistance training, together with weight-bearing exercise, can enhance bone strength. Photo: Reuters
Endurance and resistance training, together with weight-bearing exercise, can enhance bone strength. Photo: Reuters

Understanding osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a medical term commonly heard but rarely fully understood.

It is a condition of weak bones, indicated by bone loss, decrease in bone density, porous bones and fragile bones. It is caused by a variety of reasons and usually has no symptoms.

Since there is no warning sign, most patients receive diagnosis and treatments only after occurrence of body fractures.

Generally speaking, bone mass develops rapidly during the childhood and puberty. The development hits the peak at the 30s and starts slowing down significantly afterwards.

Bone loss is more obvious among females due to decline of oestrogen level during menopause. When bone loss is at a higher rate than the average, the risk of getting osteoporosis and body fractures is also higher.

Besides menopausal women, the elderly and those who take hormone medications, smoke, drink or rarely exercise also have higher chance of getting osteoporosis.

They are recommended to take their bone mass measurement regularly through dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), which has been established by the World Health Organization as the best technique for osteoporosis diagnosis.

Early diagnosis allows early intervention and treatment, which can greatly avoid body fractures from happening.

Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease that affects the health of overall bones. However, certain areas like hip joints, distal radius and vertebrae experience bone fractures much easier due to anatomy or weight pressure. Not only does it cause pain, a bone fracture will greatly hinder daily activities, which allows less chance for the bones to strengthen themselves through exercising.

As the saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”. It is especially true in the case of osteoporosis as it takes twice the amount of work to solve the problems brought by porous bones.

Fractured bones must also be carefully treated. Otherwise, it is likely to happen again and again, leading to other restrictions in daily life.

Osteoporosis patients must follow the medications or injections prescribed by their physicians. Other practices that play key roles in ensuring bone health include consuming enough calcium and vitamin D, quitting smoking, cutting alcohol intake, maintaining body weight and exercising regularly.

The elderly should also take precautionary measures such as choosing the right kind of shoes and observing home safety to avoid falling.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 23

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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FHKAM (Orthopaedic Surgery)

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