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Living with osteoporosis

Osteoporosis can make you feel—literally—fragile.

If you have the disease, you've been warned about your higher risk for fractures due to weakened, thinning bones. Perhaps you've already had a fracture and worry about having another.

But such concerns shouldn't keep you from leading a full, active life, says Felicia Cosman, MD, a trustee of the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

"It's important to remember that you're in charge, not the disease," she says. "There are a lot of things you can do to help manage osteoporosis and protect your bones."

These tips can help you take control:

Talk to your doctor about medications

Several medications can help slow bone loss and protect you from fractures. These include bisphosphonate drugs, calcitonin, raloxifene and, for women, hormone replacement therapy. A physician can determine which medications are appropriate for you.

Check your diet

A diet that's rich in calcium and vitamin D helps protect your bones from further thinning and fractures, reports the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

Good sources of calcium include dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt; fish such as canned salmon and sardines; and fortified juices, breads and cereals.

Vitamin D is found in egg yolks, fortified milk and other foods, and is manufactured naturally by the body when you're in sunlight.

Your doctor can help determine if you're getting enough calcium and vitamin D through food. If not, he or she may recommend that you take supplements.

You also should be wary of consuming too much salt (sodium), since it can make you lose more calcium when you urinate.

Quit smoking

Tobacco contributes to bone thinning, warns the NIAMS. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about medications or programs that can help you quit.

Exercise regularly—and safely

Bone is living tissue and—just like muscle tissue—grows stronger with exercise. Fitness also can help you avoid injury by improving your balance and flexibility.

For those reasons, osteoporosis shouldn't discourage you from staying fit, says Dr. Cosman. You just need to be careful about what sort of exercise you choose.

Because osteoporosis puts you at risk for fractures, you may want to avoid activities that pose a risk for falling, such as skiing and skating, Dr. Cosman says. And you should probably avoid high-impact activities such as jogging. Activities that involve lots of bending and twisting, such as doing sit-ups or playing golf, also may be hazardous.

However, a doctor or physical therapist can help you find activities that are safe. According to the NIAMS, good choices may include:

  • Walking.
  • Stair climbing.
  • Tennis.
  • Weightlifting with free weights or machines.
  • Bicycling.
  • Swimming.

Avoid falls

Falls are a major cause of fractures, warns the NIAMS. However, there is much you can do to avoid them.

Along with improving your balance, strength and flexibility by staying fit, you can take steps to make your environment safer. The NIAMS suggests:

  • Use nightlights throughout your home to prevent stumbling in the dark. Also keep a flashlight next to your bed.
  • Keep floors free of clutter, including electrical cords and telephone lines.
  • Put skid-proof backing on rugs or tack them to the floor.
  • Use a rubber bath mat in the shower or tub.
  • Wear boots with rubber soles for traction in winter.
  • Be cautious when stepping off of or onto curbs.
  • Use a fanny pack or backpack to carry items when you're walking so you can keep your hands free.

You also might consider wearing foam plastic hip protectors. Research shows they can help decrease the risk of hip fractures.

Ease pain

Fractures due to osteoporosis can be painful and slow to heal. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to treat this pain. Methods may include:

  • Applying heat or ice to the sore area.
  • Wearing braces or supports.
  • Having physical therapy.
  • Having acupuncture or acupressure.
  • Getting a massage.

Follow your plan

Your doctor can develop an osteoporosis management plan that provides specific recommendations on diet, exercise, medicine and other factors.

"The plan, and the medicines you use, should be reviewed once a year at least," Dr. Cosman says. "That way your doctor can review how well things are working and make adjustments as necessary."

Contact your doctor today if you have questions about how to best manage osteoporosis.

reviewed 5/18/2016

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