With the arrival of winter, Canadians have more reasons to think about bone health. The Canadian Institute For Health Information estimates there were more than 9,000 hospitalizations due to falls on ice in 2016-2017. Approximately 70 per cent of those happened to people over 50 years old. Fractures, often accompanied by swelling, bruising and tenderness are common outcomes.
But don’t blame the ice, says Dr. Famida Jiwa, president and CEO, Osteoporosis Canada. “Broken bones as a result of the disease can happen in everyday places; but during the winter months, people are quick to blame broken bones from a fall as a result of falling on ice or ‘falling hard.’ Healthy bones should not break from a fall from standing height, no matter the surface.”
If they do break, it’s important to look to osteoporosis as the underlying cause. Fragility fractures represent 80 per cent of all fractures in menopausal women over age 50, according to data from Osteoporosis Canada. Another alarming fact: Fractures from osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become thin and porous without signs or symptoms, are more common than heart attack, breast cancer and stroke combined. Wrist, spine, shoulder and hip are the leading sites for osteoporotic fractures.
One of the best ways to prevent fractures in winter is to make building strong bones a priority and adopt positive lifestyle behaviours. Weight-bearing exercise and having adequate vitamin D and calcium intake are just a few essential components. Controlling alcohol and salt consumption count, and not smoking, are important, too.
When it comes to external factors during winter season, you should slow your walking pace, wear boots and slip-resistant footwear (add traction devices for better grip), avoiding carrying items in your hands (use a backpack instead), and ensure sidewalks and stairs are clear of snow and ice. Keep active to help improve your strength, flexibility and balance. A strong core and leg strength will help keep you upright on slippery surfaces.
Misconceptions put your health at risk
Despite the prevalence of fractures due to osteoporosis, dangerous myths persist. They are dangerous because they affect behaviour. Steps are not taken to support bone health. According to a 2018 study published by the Public Health Agency of Canada, just 27.8 per cent of Canadians aged 40 years and over reported having a bone density test.
Among those respondents who said that they did experience fracture, it’s clear there’s a disconnect between their injuries and behaviours that could help them support bone health. Only one-third of respondents reported having a bone density test. Fewer than half said they took calcium or vitamin D supplements and just 45 per cent revealed they exercised regularly.
The study concluded: “Osteoporosis is common among Canadians 40 years of age and older, but more concerning is the large proportion at risk for osteoporosis—those with a major fracture history—who have not received a bone density test, nor engaged in lifestyle approaches recommended to help maintain healthy bones.”
It’s critical for Canadians to understand their risk and take the necessary steps to mitigate it. Again, it’s often misconceptions that often prevent us from taking action. “There are many myths associated with osteoporosis, namely that the disease is a natural part of aging – which it is not,” says Dr. Jiwa.
Start a conversation. “One of the best ways to protect yourself from breaks associated with osteoporosis, is to be aware of your risks, speak to your healthcare provider to minimize or manage those risks and make choices to support bone health. If you have broken a bone, you should be screened for your risk of osteoporosis by your doctor. This simple step can avoid debilitating future fractures, which can significantly impact your ability to live independently.”
Who’s most at risk?
Anyone at any age, including children and men, can be diagnosed with osteoporosis. While there is no single cause for osteoporosis, a number of risk factors that may increase your chances of developing the disease, such as:
Women are the most vulnerable. At least one in three women will break a bone because of osteoporosis over the course of their lives. According to Osteoporosis Canada, women are especially vulnerable because of the role estrogen plays in keeping their bones healthy. At menopause, there is a gradual decline in ovarian function and a consequent loss of estrogen production. As estrogen levels decline, loss of bone tissue begins. Rapid bone loss at a rate of two to five per cent a year can occur for the first five to 10 years after menopause.
- Family history
Your risk is higher if either one of your parents has had a hip fracture.
- Lifestyle behaviours
A high alcohol intake (three or more drinks per day), a high-salt diet, being a current smoker elevates risk.
- History of fractures and falls
You’re at increased risk if you’ve had a prior fracture with minimal trauma and have a history of falling in the last 12 months.
- Prescription drug use
The long-term use of glucocorticoid therapy such as prednisone, may impair the body’s ability to build bone.
As Dr. Jiwa emphasizes, talk to your healthcare provider about your individual risk and learn about measures you can take to improve your bone health. Take steps to prevent fractures in winter and all year long. And always break myths, not bones.
Breaking myths has been the over-arching theme throughout this series on osteoporosis. In our next and final story in the campaign, we’ll reveal the results of our online questions, testing how well Canadians understand this common bone disease and their risk. Stay tuned for the results…
Presented through a sponsorship from Amgen Canada Inc.