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Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones lose strength, meaning that you are at higher risk of breaking a bone than the average adult. As bones lose strength, they can break after a minor bump or fall. You may hear your doctor refer to these as fragility fractures. A broken bone and a fracture are the same thing. There are several things that you can do to help you live well with this condition.

Osteoporosis and broken bones have several known risk factors, which cause bones to lose strength. Some do this by reducing how much bone tissue your body makes and repairs, known as bone density. Others influence how strong your bone tissue is.

Understanding your risk factors for osteoporosis and broken bones can help you identify if there's anything you can change. Remember, it's never too late to start taking action for your bones - even after a diagnosis.

Risk factors that you can change:

Smoking - Smoking slows down the cells that build bone in your body. If you're a woman, smoking also increases your chances of an earlier menopause. Postmenopausal women have an increased risk of osteoporosis and breaking a bone.

Low body weight - If you have low body weight, you're more likely to have less bone tissue. If you're older, having low body weight also means you have less fat padding around the hips, to cushion the impact of a fall. This makes broken bones more likely if you trip and fall.

Drinking too much alcohol - Alcohol affects the cells that build and break down bone. It also makes you unsteady on your feet, making you more likely to trip, fall and break a bone.

Slips, trips and falls - If you have low balance, coordination and reflexes, you are more likely to trip or stumble, and potentially break a bone in a fall. Try and keep your home clear of trip hazards and wear sensible footwear to help your balance. Make sure you have regular sight and hearing tests.

Not exercising regularly – Exercise promotes bone and muscle strength, keeps you steady and cares for your back. Weight-bearing exercise and resistance exercise are particularly important for improving bone density and helping to prevent osteoporosis.

Not eating a healthy diet – A healthy diet is important for everyone, not just for people with osteoporosis. Make sure you have a balanced diet that contains all the food groups to give your body the nutrition it needs. Calcium is important for maintaining strong bones. Vitamin D is important for healthy bones and teeth as it helps your body to absorb calcium.

There are several risk factors for osteoporosis that you can’t change, including:

  • Genes determine the potential size and strength of your skeleton
  • Risk increases with age
  • More common in women than men
  • Higher risk if you are of Caucasian or Asian origin
  • Certain medication can increase your risk, including high dose steroids and some medicines used to treat breast cancer and prostate cancer that affect hormone levels
  • Certain hormone related disorders can trigger osteoporosis including an overactive thyroid gland, adrenal gland disorders, reduced amounts of oestrogen and testosterone, disorders of the pituitary gland and overactivity of the parathyroid glands.

If you have a history of broken bones, then you are at higher risk.

Recovering from a broken bone

Osteoporosis doesn't affect the healing process of bone; broken bones can heal as normal.

Some broken bones need an operation to help them heal, while others get better on their own. A broken bone usually takes between 6 and 8 weeks to heal, although this can be longer. There are things you can do to speed up the healing process:

  • Eat a healthy balanced diet, with plenty of protein
  • Avoid smoking, as smoking limits the blood supply to your bones