Does osteoporosis increase the risk of foot fractures as we get older?
Stress fractures are typically small cracks in the bone that are the result of overuse or some sort of repetitive movement. The feet, ankles and lower legs are particularly vulnerable to stress fractures because they bear the weight of the body, including the additional stress created by movements like running and jumping. It’s easy to understand why they are fairly common in athletes and recreational runners.
A sudden increase in activity level, flat feet, high arches and nutrient deficiencies can also increase the risk of stress factors. As we get older, the potential for stress fractures and other types of broken bones increases due to the development of osteoporosis.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis means “porous bone.” It is fairly common and affects both men and women, although women are at increased risk. It is estimated that 25 percent of all men will break a bone at some point in their lifetime as a result of osteoporosis: that number goes to 50 percent for women.
Our bodies naturally build bone as we grow, with them becoming larger and stronger. This process peaks somewhere in our 30s, and then the process is reversed. At that point we begin to lose bone mass without the body being able to replace it as fast as it’s being lost. When this reaches a critical level, the diagnosis is osteoporosis.
As osteoporosis develops, it brings with it the very real danger of increased possibility of bone fractures, especially stress factors in the feet, ankles and lower legs. If the disease continues to progress, even mild pressure from seemingly harmless actions like standing or putting our foot down a little off balance can result in a fracture.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Are you a prime candidate for osteoporosis? Some of the factors that increase probability include:
- age – over 65
- family history of osteoporosis
- body type – small-boned
- alcohol use
- lack of exercise
Osteoporosis is one of the silent diseases. There are no symptoms in the beginning and many people end up losing significant bone mass before ever being diagnosed. At that point, the damage is done but there are things that you can do to prevent or slow further weakening and risk of fractures. These include diet and exercise programs, hormone therapy, and certain medications.
Symptoms of a Foot Stress Fracture
How can you tell if you have a stress fracture in your foot? Some of the more common symptoms include:
- pinpoint pain – an area that is painful, tender, or sore when touched
- dull pain – deep, non-throbbing pain within the foot or toes
- intermittent pain – pain that comes with activity and stops when at rest
- changes in biomechanics
Usually, stress fractures will heal without the need for surgery. Your orthopedist will recommend that you cease all high-impact activity, typically for around six weeks. This is especially important for any activity that is believed to be responsible for the injury. In addition, icing, elevation, and acetaminophen will help with pain and swelling. Protective footwear may also be suggested.
If you have questions about stress fractures or about any other foot or ankle concerns, Dr. Christopher Hubbard is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon with Ortho-Care Wayne in Passiac County New Jersey and is the former Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in NYC.
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