Low bone density means the bones have lost many of the minerals, like calcium, which help to make them hard and strong. This mineral loss makes bones more brittle and more prone to break (or fracture) than normal. When bone density is lower than normal, this is called osteopenia. When bone density becomes severely low, this is called osteoporosis. Over 6 million Australians have osteopenia, and a further 1 million Australians have osteoporosis.
All of our bones constantly “remodel” themselves, turning over old bone and growing new bone. As we age, bones tend to lose minerals faster than they are replaced. Bone loss is greater in women following menopause due to the decline of oestrogen. However, low bone density can affect men as well. Other risk factors include medical history - taking steroid or certain other medications, low calcium and vitamin D levels, and a family history of low bone density all increase the likelihood of developing low bone density. Smoking, high alcohol intake and low levels of physical activity also increase the risks.
Low bone density can be managed in various ways. For those with osteopenia:
A Women’s Health Physiotherapist can advise you on appropriate exercise for low bone density. Your GP or an endocrinologist can advise on other treatment aspects. The Osteoporosis Australia website has further information.