Osteoporosis and fractures

Why do osteoporotic bones fracture?

Imagine a scenario where a bridge collapses during rush hour traffic. The accident will prompt a number of questions: Was the bridge not built properly? Was there extra weight on the bridge that it could not handle? Was it a combination of poor design and too much weight?

As you can imagine, there may be no one simple answer to why the bridge collapsed. We can think of our bones in a similar way – our bones may fracture or break for a number of reasons.

A fracture that results from minimal trauma, such as a fall from standing height or less, is characteristic of osteoporosis. Although low bone mineral density may be an important contributor, it is not always the only cause for fracture. In fact, bone is a very complex structure. The strength of our bones is determined by many things. The density of the bone matters, but the quality of the bone is important to consider as well. The size and shape of the bone, the amount of minerals and protein in the bone, as well as other more complex features of the bone, together, determine its overall strength.

Am I at risk of fracture?

When trying to assess your risk of fracture, a number of things besides bone density and bone strength have to be taken into consideration. Some factors can increase your risk of fracture. These include smoking, drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, low weight, use of glucocorticoids, having rheumatoid arthritis, having suffered from a previous fragility fracture, and a parental history of hip fracture.

Based on which of the above factors apply to you, your doctor will be able to assess whether you are at risk of fracture and will suggest treatment accordingly.

Our quick fracture risk assessment test can help you find out if you are at risk for osteoporosis and fractures. 

How can I prevent fractures?

You can reduce bone loss and lower your risk of fracture by modifying your lifestyle and taking medication, if your doctor prescribes it. Make sure you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D and you are exercising regularly. In addition, avoid smoking and excessive drinking.

Apart from bone loss, injury is another reason why bones may break. More than 90% of hip fractures are a result of falling. There are many things that can make a person more likely to fall – these include muscle weakness, poor balance, physical disability, chronic illnesses such as arthritis, decreased vision, and even depression. Heavy alcohol use, inappropriate footwear or clothing, and hazards in your home such as slippery surfaces and lack of handrails can also lead to falls.

If you have osteoporosis, it is important that you take precautions to avoid falling and causing injury to your bones. Below are some things you can do to prevent falls:

  • exercise regularly, and focus especially on exercises that strengthen your muscles and improve your balance (e.g. Tai Chi)
  • avoid excessive alcohol
  • avoid high-heeled shoes and wear shoes with firm, non-slip soles
  • have your vision checked regularly
  • remove potential hazards at home (e.g. secure electrical cords and carpets to prevent tripping, install handrails and grab bars where appropriate)
  • use walking aids such as a cane or walker, if needed
  • avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills and other medication that can make you dizzy or unsteady

More ways to reduce fracture risk.