In the United States, a large percentage of those 65 years and older are affected by osteoporosis, a disease characterized by low density and quality of bones. If the old idiom “I can feel it in my bones” starts to make much more literal sense to you than in years past, you may want to start listening to what your body is trying to tell. It’s important to know the signs that your bones are in trouble so that you can save them before it’s too late. Here we compiled 8 warning signs and symptoms of bone loss you should watch for:
1. Brittle Nails
Breaking a fingernail is an annoyance everyone has experienced. If your nails are breaking more often than normal, though, it might be cause for concern. Your nails can turn brittle for a number of reasons, but a prominent one is calcium deficiency. Calcium is a mineral that’s essential to bone health and lack of calcium means you’re at a higher risk of bone loss. Besides dairy, you can also get calcium from dark leafy greens and sardines.
2. Receding Gums
You won’t necessarily spot receding gums because it usually takes years to actually manifest. Your gums recede as your jawbone loses strength and bone mass. Our teeth are connected to the jaw bone and if the jaw is weakened, gums can recede and in extreme cases, detach from the teeth. A major sign of receding gums is if you start losing teeth. As you age, it becomes important to ask the dentist to check up on your gum health. The standard panoramic x-rays during your routine visits to the dentist can provide a well-informed dentist with an opportunity to screen you for bone loss.
Even if you don’t have gum trouble, you’ll still want to keep up with preventive measures like flossing and brushing regularly. You can also strengthen your jaw by chewing gum.
3. Poor Grip Strength
As we grow older and the overall muscle strength declines, opening that overly tightened pickle jar lid becomes a more difficult task. But if you’re noticing that your grip is worse than usual, it might be time to call the doctor and see if the real cause is your bones. Grip strength is sometimes used as an indicator of your overall bone density. People with poor grip strength are more likely to suffer from bone fractures.
Fortunately, you can always keep the risk of fracture to a minimum through exercise, no matter how old you are.
4. Breaking a Bone too Easily
One of the most common signs of osteoporosis is getting a bone fracture when you shouldn’t. Sadly, this is how many people realize they have osteoporosis, when a bump they wouldn’t have thought twice about a couple of years ago is now enough to break a bone. If you break an ankle or wrist from low impact falls or bumps like stepping wrong off a curb, it might be time to ask a doctor to get your bones checked out.
If you suffer from an easy bone fracture, you may want to make your home safer by rearranging your furniture and installing extra handrails and lighting. If you live alone, keep a phone at your arm’s reach to make calling for help easier.
5. Becoming Shorter
Sadly, people shrink as the number of candles on their birthday cakes increases. It is estimated that on average people lose 1/4 to 1/2 inch every decade after age 40 or 50, with losses increasing in later years, and women generally losing more than men. This happens when one’s bone mass decreases and the cartilage between these bones wears down from years and years of heavy use.
Becoming shorter doesn’t necessarily mean your bones are in trouble, but it can be worrisome, which is one reason why some health care providers measure their client’s height as part of a periodic health exam. Height loss is especially concerning if it is largely the result of a compression fracture or other skeletal conditions. Such fractures can cause back pain and reduce mobility. Height shrinkage can also indicate a weakening of the muscles around the spine. Considering bones and muscles work as one unit and typically gain and lose strength in synchrony, it’s likely that same loss of muscle that contributes to shrinkage can also lead to back problems.
6. Cramping and Aching Muscles
Some levels of discomfort can go along with aging and we all expect that. But when it’s from osteoporosis, the discomfort goes beyond the aches and pains of old age. Frequent aches and pains are usually associated with vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, and some researchers think that increasing vitamin D intake can help prevent bone loss.
Cramps are often overlooked, too. There can be a number of mechanisms causing leg and foot cramps, but leg cramps that occur at night are often a signal that the calcium, magnesium, or potassium levels in your blood have dropped too low during the night. Long-term deficiency of these minerals that are crucial to bone-building can cause excessive bone loss.
7. Bone Pain
Bones are complex living tissues comprised of an inner spongy bone and surrounded by solid bone. Soft marrow, which produces bone and blood cells, lies in the center of many bones. Disease within the bone or diseases that affect the mineralization or remodeling of bone, as well as problems inflicted upon the bone (breaks, bruises, or infections), may result in pain.
There are many potential causes of bone pain, ranging from a bone bruise to bone cancer. While associated symptoms and the quality of your pain can provide clues to the root cause of your bone pain, imaging and/or blood tests are often needed to pin down the exact diagnosis.
8. Stooping Posture
You’ve been told all your life to stand tall, but osteoporosis can make that a bit more challenging. One of the most common symptoms of bone loss is a curved spine. The spinal bones or vertebrae will break or collapse, affecting your posture which will cause you to look hunched, or stooped over.
But good posture is possible. If you’re facing bone loss, practicing good posture can reduce the risk of fracture. Avoid curling forward because any time you arch your back, you put your spine at risk. Try to keep your back as flat and straight as possible, relying more on hips, knees, and legs to get you up and down. When relaxing in bed or on the couch in a reclined position, use rolled towels or pillows to keep your spine as straight as possible. Check out these sleeping positions to figure out the best way to support your spine when lying down.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.