As you age, your bones start to lose minerals such as calcium at a rate higher than your body can replenish them. This causes your bone structure to become weak, brittle and prone to fractures.
Over time, this can lead to osteoporosis, in which bones lose their strength and thickness.
“Osteoporosis typically occurs in those above the age of 50, especially in women, as that is the age where bone tissue is lost faster than new tissue can grow to replace it,” explains senior consultant neurosurgeon and medical director Dr Colum Patrick Nolan, Oxford Spine and Neurosurgery Centre.
To understand osteoporosis better, picture your bone structure as a porous honeycomb that is constantly undergoing renewal, advises Dr Nolan, who also has a subspecialty in spine surgery.
Having osteoporosis means that the holes inside the honeycomb-like bone structure get increasingly larger, which can weaken the bone structure, putting one at greater risk of fractures.
A medical paper projects that the number of people in Singapore suffering from osteoporotic fractures is expected to increase by 57.9 percent, from 15,267 in 2017 to 24,104 by 2035.
Having osteoporosis does not mean you will suffer from a fracture, but it does increase your likelihood of doing so since you have lower bone density. “The lower your bone density, the more likely that exertion of external forces on your body will result in fractures,” adds Dr Nolan.
Knowing the difference between osteoporotic fractures and arthritic pain
Since factures and arthritic pain (osteoarthritis) tend to surface at around the same time as you age, they can be easily mistaken for each other.
This is often dangerous for the patient as untreated fractures can lead to new ones or result in disability.
“What differentiates fracture pain from arthritic pain is a sudden back pain which can occur after a simple fall or without a fall,” points out Dr Nolan. “Arthritic pain is usually present early in the morning and eases with movement. Patients may also notice that they are more hunched over due to osteoporotic compression fractures.”
Some early signs and symptoms of osteoporosis include back pain and loss of height over time, resulting in a stooped posture. While osteoporosis can be painful, you can feel worsening pain if you have a fracture due to the condition.