Taking Care of an Ill Loved One

The Orthopaedic Doctor's Role In Treating Osteoporosis

Although orthopaedic surgeons generally perform surgery to repair a fractured hip bone, their role in treating hip fractures related to osteoporosis includes managing the disease afterward. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become weak and brittle. Since patients who suffer a fracture are at double the risk of a second fracture, receiving the proper followup treatment is critical.

Why Followup Treatment Matters

The absence of effective osteoporosis treatment following a hip fracture can lead to additional medical problems, including

  1. Complications from immobilization. Your health can deteriorate as a result of immobilization. Pressure sores are a common complication of prolonged periods of being immobilized. The sores, which commonly occur in bony areas, can be prevented by daily examination of the skin and frequent changes of position to relieve pressure on those areas. Otherwise, if pressure sores develop and go untreated, an infection of the skin and bones can set in.

    The immobility that follows a hip fracture can lead to life-threatening illnesses and even death. Complications often include urinary tract infections, blood clots in the legs or lungs, or pneumonia.

  2. Changes in calcium and bone metabolism. Research suggests that increased bone resorption (breaking down bone) and decreased bone formation occur following a hip fracture, increasing the risk of another fracture.

Evaluating the Risk Factors

Although the specific cause of osteoporosis remains unknown, there are several risk factors that may increase your risk of developing the disease. When assessing risk, doctors consider factors such as

  1. Family history of the disease.

  2. Lifestyle habits. Poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking can lead to loss of bone density.

  3. Age. Older individuals are at higher risk, as bones weaken with age and can fracture easily. Poor vision, balance problems, and medications also increase the risk of falls.

  4. Gender. Women are at a two to three times higher risk than men for developing the disease; however, men can get osteoporosis too.

  5. Menopause. Estrogen deficiency leads to bone loss; therefore, doctors sometimes use hormone therapy in the form of estrogen agonists/antagonists to treat osteoporosis.

The Value of Patient Education

Patient education contributes to preventing future fractures. In managing the disease, your doctor may recommend that you

  • Quit smoking. The National Institutes of Health reports that studies indicate a link between tobacco use and decreased bone density.

  • Lead an active lifestyle. Performing regular weight-bearing exercises helps maintain bone density. Muscle-strengthening exercises increase strength and help to improve balance.

  • Eat a balanced diet. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and foods that contain calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium, vitamins C and K, and adequate protein contributes to healthy bones. The foods you eat also help you maintain a healthy weight, reducing the strain on your hip joints.

  • Limit the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol, like tobacco, can reduce bone density. Excessive alcohol consumption can also affect your balance, increasing the chances that you may fall.

  • Reduce caffeine and sodium intake. The caffeine in coffee leaches calcium from bones. A high-salt diet leads to the loss of calcium and other bone minerals by passing it in your urine.

  • Get an annual eye examination. You may need to see an eye doctor more often if you have diabetes or an existing eye disease.

  • Take the prescribed medications. Once a fracture has healed, certain kinds of medications can help prevent future fractures. Antiresorptive medications, such as bisphosphonates, slow bone loss and increase bone density. Anabolic drugs, including parathyroid hormone, help build bone.

Your orthopaedic doctor may also recommend the use of a cane or walker if you remain unsteady on your feet following hip surgery. Some individuals need to use a wheelchair at times even after recovering from surgery to repair a hip fracture.