Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the bones. Its name comes from Latin for “porous bones.” The inside of a healthy bone has small spaces, like a honeycomb. Osteoporosis increases the size of these spaces, causing the bone to lose strength and density. In addition, the outside of the bone grows weaker and thinner. People with osteoporosis are at a high risk of fractures, or bone breaks, while doing routine activities such as standing or walking. The most commonly affected bones are the ribs, hips, and the bones in the wrists and spine.

There typically are no symptoms in the early stages of bone loss. But once your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, you might have signs and symptoms that include:

  • Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra
  • Loss of height over time
  • A stooped posture
  • A bone that breaks much more easily than expected

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to prevent osteoporosis and new or repeat fractures. Here are six steps to help you reduce your risk of osteoporosis:

  • Know Your Risks. Knowing your risks is the first step to prevention. Risk factors for osteoporosis include increasing age, being female, low bone mass, history of fractures, smoking, certain medical conditions, and the use of certain medications. 
  • Exercise. Exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercises like walking, is important for good bone health. Balance training also can help prevent falls – a leading cause of fractures. People who already have osteoporosis should avoid forward-bending of the spine, exercises that involve twisting or jerking of the spine, and should consult with a physical therapist regarding appropriate exercises. 
  • Look at Your Calcium and Vitamin D Intake. Make sure you are getting enough calcium and Vitamin D. Most adults need 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day (depending on age), and Vitamin D is important in all climates. People who do not receive adequate amounts of these nutrients through their diet may benefit from supplementation if advised by their doctor.
  • Stop Smoking. Smoking is a risk factor for osteoporosis, and quitting is necessary for overall good health, including bone health. 
  • Limit Alcohol Consumption. Alcohol consumption is another risk factor for osteoporosis, so limiting alcohol is important, especially if other risk factors for fractures are present. 
  • Treat the Underlying Cause of a Fracture. If you experience a fracture, make sure that you are evaluated and treated for osteoporosis. Today’s medical therapies can help prevent future fractures, and newer medications currently under evaluation may help build bone in people with low bone mass. 

Osteoporosis is a condition that can have serious effects. It can lead to fractures, which can be painful, take a long time to heal, and lead to other conditions. The good news is, there’s a lot you can do to prevent and to treat osteoporosis, from eating right, to exercising and taking appropriate medications. 

If you think you’re at risk of osteoporosis, or if you’ve been diagnosed with it, talk to your provider. They can work with you to put together a prevention or treatment plan that can help improve your bone health and reduce your risk of complications.