The odds are that there will be a bone or joint condition in your future. 54% of Americans will have a musculoskeletal issue arise as they age; many will get osteoarthritis due to the normal wear and tear of an active life, or from osteoporosis (bone thinning), and then there’s the midlife weight gain that contributes to stress on our joints. Add to these the old-fashioned backache,
which is often caused by many factors, gosh, there’s a lot going on, and sometimes the cause is hard to pin down.

Here are more facts from the US Bone and Joint Initiative:

  • One in three (33%) people over the age of 18 required medical care for a musculoskeletal condition in each of the years 2009 to 2011, which represents a 19% increase over the previous decade.
  • Bone and joint conditions are the most common cause of severe long-term pain and physical disability worldwide, affecting hundreds of millions of people.
  • Musculoskeletal conditions include back pain, arthritis, traumatic injuries, osteoporosis spinal deformity, and childhood conditions.
  • Musculoskeletal conditions can lead to significant disability plus diminished productivity and quality of life. Treatment and lost wage costs associated with musculoskeletal diseases in the US alone was estimated at $874 billion in 2009 to 2011 – equal to 5.73 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
  • Research funding is currently less than 2 percent of the National Institutes of Health annual budget and continues to decline each year despite the high costs associated with injuries, arthritis, and back pain.

Being Female Complicates Things

For post-menopausal women, the risk goes up for osteoporosis, a thinning and weakening of the bones. The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that approximately 40% of all postmenopausal women will eventually experience fractures due to a loss of Bone Mineral Density (BMD). Talk to your health care provider about the risks and benefits of bone density testing and possible medications. And of course, be sure to get plenty of calcium from food and have your Vitamin D checked as these are important to maintain healthy bones. 

To start with, the bone mass of women is lower on average than that of men. Also, there are mechanical differences in the way women’s thighs, hips, and knees are aligned and engage during activity, and that puts them at a greater risk for injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). (Read also: Why Girls Get More Injuries)

Women who use Depo-Provera (Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate), a very effective injectable form of birth control, are at higher risk of experiencing a loss of bone mineral density (BMD) while they are using the drug. This does improve after they stop the Depo-Provera, but can take 2 or more years to reverse the process.  This may put them at higher risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures post menopause.

Keep Moving (Or Make a Start) 

Your bones are living tissue, and like muscle, they become stronger with exercise. It is weight-bearing exercises that will build and maintain bone strength. This means cycling, swimming, and rowing are great for your heart and muscles, but your bones need weight-bearing movement. This means walking, hiking, tennis, dancing – and also gardening, housework, and climbing stairs. 

If you want to add extra bone and joint strengthening, use weight machines, free weights, or elastic resistance bands. A gym membership is not essential! A 3lb, 5lb, or 8lb set of dumbbells (hand weights), and an elastic band can add to the pull that your muscles exert on your bones, giving them a better workout. Start slowly with lightweight and listen to your body. Strain and hard work are not the same as pain–which means stop. As always, if you have existing health conditions talk to your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program. Joining a class makes exercising more fun, and more likely you will go regularly. Also, a good instructor will remind you of proper body mechanics and safety while working out. 

An older friend jokingly refers to his falls as “gravitational moments,” something we all want to avoid. Not falling is an excellent way to protect your bones, and we can lower our risk practicing and maintaining our balance. Stretching, joint flexibility (especially ankles) and balance training will help to prevent falls and related fractures. I recommend balance training with Tai chi and Yoga.

Don’t forget Calcium and Vitamin D

Add a bone-healthy diet to your exercise. Calcium is the most important nutrient for bones, and vitamin D helps the body absorb it. Green veggies, fortified orange juice, dairy, and fish all add calcium to your diet. 

Replacement Parts

So, even if you’ve exercised and watched your weight, there are times when joints are too damaged, worn out, and causing pain. There are improvements in orthopedic surgery each year, and lots more customers. Total hip replacement surgeries will soar by 171% by 2030 and total knee replacement surgeries will grow by189%. Wrist replacement is also becoming more common. Procedures that allow us to keep moving and enjoying our favorite activities keep us involved in life, and will have a positive effect on our emotional health as well. 

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