Here’s To Healthy Bones And Joints
by Joshua Wong, Senior Patient Care Pharmacist
Both ruthless robbers of life's qualities, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis may be avoided for good!
Learn more about them and how you can boost your chances at preventing these diseases from affecting you.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a common condition where the bones become brittle due to a low bone mass
density or reduction in bone strength. As a result, a simple fall may actually fracture any brittle
bones, especially at the hips, wrist or the spine.
When will osteoporosis affect you?
An age-related disease, osteoporosis is more common in women than men.
Women with early menopause before the age of 45 are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
Elderly who are confined in bed or have low physical activity may be more prone to this disease.
Men and some individuals may get osteoporosis at a younger age if they are on long-term
medications or have certain medical conditions (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis). Smoking and excessive
alcohol consumption have also been greatly associated with the increased incidences of
Symptoms of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis gradually develops over the years and may not have any signs or symptoms during the
early stages. The symptoms usually appear in its advanced stages where fractures have occurred.
Depending on the location of the fractured bone, one may feel pain at the affected area. For
instance, pain in the neck or lower back may indicate spinal bone fracture.
Some may also experience a loss of height over time or develop a stooped posture. Symptoms of
osteoporosis in men are similar to that in women.
Lowering the risk of osteoporosis
Regular physical activities like tai-chi, yoga and weight-lifting can help build stronger bones and
maintain healthy bone density. It is important to choose the correct exercises for your age and
existing health conditions to prevent injuries.
Having a calcium intake of at least 1,000mg daily and sufficient vitamin D are also beneficial,
especially for women of menopausal age.
Individuals who are lactose-intolerant or have milk allergies can opt for calcium supplements. Most
calcium supplements now come with vitamin D, which is important for calcium absorption.
For smokers and frequent drinkers, quitting smoking and the reduction of alcohol consumption can
also help in preventing or slowing down the progression of osteoporosis.
What is osteoarthritis?
Contrary to popular belief, osteoarthritis is not necessarily the disease of the old. Osteoarthritis is a
degenerative joint disease where the cartilage in the joints wears down over time.
Any joint could be affected, but osteoarthritis mainly occurs at the joints of the hands, knees, hips,
lower spine or neck.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis
Common symptoms include pain and tenderness at the joint area, stiffness in the morning or after
resting for long hours, and the feeling of creaking at the joints.
These symptoms occur slowly and worsen with time. As the condition gets more severe, bone
protrusion around the joint area may be formed.
Causes of osteoarthritis
In most cases, the exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown. However, some risk factors that
contribute to the wear and tear of the joint cartilage have been identified.
- Women have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis
- Osteoarthritis occurs in older adults, 40 years and above
- Genetic conditions where joints or cartilages are malformed can increase the likelihood of
osteoarthritis in younger individuals
- Injuries to the joints can increase the risk in young and old people
- Obesity can increase the risk as more stress is incurred on certain joints (e.g. knees)
Checking for osteoarthritis
If you always suffer from pain in your joints, do consult a healthcare professional. He/she may
recommend that you go for an X-ray, a non-invasive method that determines the degree of cartilage
loss in the joints.
Blood tests may be recommended to check if the individual has other diseases that could resemble
symptoms of osteoarthritis (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis). Other tests include drawing fluid out from the
joint using a needle to exclude the possibilities of gout or infection as the cause of joint pain and
Can osteoarthritis be treated?
Currently, there is no treatment for osteoarthritis, but there are medications available that can
relieve the pain and swelling of joints.
Over-the-counter pain relief creams or hot/cold packs can relieve minor joint pain, while
paracetamol is recommended for more severe pains.
If the joints are swollen and painful, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as
ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are what you'll want to look for at a pharmacy. Alternatively,
prescription pain killers like tramadol or steroid injections may be recommended by your doctor.
For severely damaged joints, an artificial joint replacement surgery may be the way to go.
Reducing the risk of osteoarthritis
Everyone has a risk of getting osteoarthritis, but you can reduce it to the minimum with these simple
- Do light exercise (e.g. biking and swimming) regularly to strengthen the muscles around the
- If obese, shed some weight the healthy way to reduce pressure on the joints
- Avoid any form of exercise if the joint is injured or swollen
- Always rest joints whenever there is pain, or when doing repetitive movements that involve
- Use assistive devices such as walking sticks when required to reduce stress on the joints